~ A Light At The End Of The Tunnel ~
 © 2001 J M DRAGON
     e-mail:  jmdragon1@hotmail.com

Disclaimers:   This story features consensual sexual relationships between adult females, and some implied m/f relations. If this bothers you, is illegal in the State, Province or Country in which you live, or if you are the under age of 18, please find some other readings to pursue. There are many general stories out there for you to read.
Language:  There is some occasional strong language.
Violence:  Some brief emotional strain in this story, but no brutality or physical violence.
Hurt/Comfort: There is a little hurt/discomfort in these one, and some brief scenes of family ordeals to be dealt with by the characters, but happy/comforting consequences also.
Dedication: Linda, here is the original story I wrote for you but never finished properly. Guess I tried again, thank you for the friendship in the good and bad times.
Acknowledgement: Thank you Betty and the ‘hussies’, as always I appreciate the help.

Chapter One

The door to Gayle Sutton’s office opened and in strolled Xandra Carmicheal-Stavros, her stride outmatching her chief executive Matt Herclotte, who was following now several paces behind her.

Giving Gayle a brief smile, he followed his boss into her office and closed the door.

Gayle grinned as she counted on her fingers, and as she reached seven the intercom buzzed and Xandra asked her to bring in coffee. ‘Wonder if I’ll ever get to ten?’ Gayle chuckled as she set the coffeepot on and went back to her reports.

Gayle Sutton was twenty-six, but her innocent features often gave the impression she was at least five years younger. Her short strawberry blonde hair shone in the sunlight, which was slowly fading as the day moved on. Her emerald eyes often carrying an element of devilment and laughter, which was endearing to many and made her a very popular person. Her compassionate nature had been sorely tried working for her boss, who was anything but. Having a quick intelligence, she had been working for Xandra as her PA for over three years. Although hating some of Xandra’s tactics, she admired the woman’s strength of purpose. Her ability to hold her own with Xandra had helped the working relationship.

The coffee perked, and she collected the two mugs and poured the dark liquid into both mugs, one having no further additions, the other was ladled liberally with warm milk and a spoonful of honey. Walking over to the other door she tapped lightly and walked in.

Matt Herclotte was lounging on the sofa at the far end of the room as Gayle entered, Xandra was making a call. “Good. Here comes coffee.” Matt winked at Gayle and she returned his wink.

Placing Xandra’s mug close by her left hand, she went over to Matt and offered him the other mug. He smiled at her and patted the sofa next to him, “How’s my best girl?” he teased her.

Gayle looked at him and grinned back, not taking up his gesture. “Fine thank you Matt, and yourself?”

“Excellent, pity I can’t get the boss to slow down enough so I can spend some time with my family though, the kids will think I’m a figment of their imagination.” He pointed in Xandra’s direction and smiled wryly at her, she gave him a brisk look.

“I think Angela understands and maybe one day who knows.” Matt was a good man he had been a friend of Xandra’s for years, being her right hand man had its drawbacks as well as the good things in life.

“What about you, anyone on your horizon? Didn’t you go out with Pierce recently?” Matt asked, knowing that Gayle kept her private life very private.

Blushing slightly, a look of astonishment on her face. “I didn’t realise that my private life was part of the company grapevine? How did you know I’d been out with Pierce?”

“Aah Gayle, everything that happens in this place is fodder for the gossips. Not to mention that Pierce let the cat out of the bag at the last meeting we attended. Sorry Gayle.” He did look a little ashamed of himself. He knew Gayle hated gossip.

“That’s okay, the answer to that question is yes, and definitely never again if Pierce is a gossip.” Gayle answered quietly. That was, and would be the only time she would ever go out with the Finance director.

“Pleased to hear it, if the guy can’t keep his private life private, you don’t need him.” A gravely voice intoned.

Turning Gayle went bright red as she realised that Xandra had heard the conversation. It was embarrassing enough that Matt had mentioned it, but to have her boss make comments too, it was way too much.

“I’m sorry you are being bothered with gossip Ms. Stavros, I’ll see it doesn’t happen again.” With that Gayle left the room quickly.

Matt looked at his friend and boss and smirked, “Think you embarrassed the little lady, my friend.”

Xandra Carmicheal-Stavros got up from her chair and stretched to her six feet stature, her flowing ebony hair swinging loosely. She was a beautiful woman, high cheekbones, and the envy of any model and a body to go with it, no spare flesh around. To top it off, she had the most interesting ice blue eyes that he’d ever seen. At thirty-five, she was the ruthless owner of a thriving corporation, which gave her little time for the social aspects of life.

Raising her left eyebrow to effect, she glanced at the closed door to her office. “Maybe, but what’s she doing going out with a wimp like Samson. He might be good with numbers, but I hardly think he’s Gayle’s type do you?” She scathingly answered him.

Matt looked at her and laughed. “How would you know what Gayle’s type is? She hardly comes into your league, now does she?”

“Oh, come on. Gayle deserves something more than that specimen of manhood.” Xandra looked at her well-manicured hands.

“Pierce isn’t so bad, just needs to keep his mouth shut.” Matt was enjoying this little gossip session; he’d never known it to happen before, so he was going to milk it for all it was worth.

“Gayle deserves better than someone who gossips, particularly a man!” she stated with heavily laced sarcasm.

“So do you have a candidate in mind?” he was intrigued.

“Don’t be stupid Matt. Although, someone like you might well fit the bill.” She threw back at him.

“How about someone like you!” He watched her closely as he tossed that back on the pile.

Her expression changed slightly, but he couldn’t quite make out if it had been good or bad. “Let’s get some more work done, shall we?”

‘Well, that sure was interesting?’ He moved closer to the desk as they got back to the next take-over.

* * * * * * * * * *

The clock struck six p.m. as Gayle turned off her computer and wondered if Xandra wanted any more reports before she left the office for the evening.

Knocking on the door she was told to enter.

Opening the door slightly she looked at her boss and noticed she seemed pre-occupied with something. “Ms. Stavros is there anything else you need before I leave?”

Xandra gave her a speculative look and smiled briefly. “No. Go home Gayle, everything is covered.”

“Are you sure?” Gayle asked her again.

Xandra gave her a pointed stare. “Why do you ask?”

“You look kind of pre-occupied. I just wondered if there was anything I could do?” Gayle knew that Xandra often left the office after mid-night. It looked to her that tonight wasn’t going to be any different.

“Pre-occupied? Mmmmm... Maybe I am. Nothing that can’t be solved with a few more hours work I would think.” Xandra remarked in a distracted manner

“Okay, well I guess I’ll go. Have a good weekend Ms. Stavros.” Gayle murmured tentatively.

“Aah, the weekend, of course. Almost forgot that.” She said absently thinking Gayle had shut the door.

Gayle hadn’t, she’d heard the quiet words and opened the door wider and went inside. “You didn’t realise it was the weekend?” She gasped in astonishment.

Xandra looked up in surprise as Gayle re-entered her office. Getting up from her chair, she towered over the smaller woman, who couldn’t be more than five feet four in height.

“No! What do you do over the weekend?” It had been something she had wanted to ask her efficient PA numerous times, but never had.

“I…I, well, I go to a friends café and tell stories.” She exclaimed shyly.

Xandra looked astonished this time, “Really? Interesting hobby. Are you a good story teller?”

“They don’t throw their food at me… so, I guess I’m reasonably good.” Gayle laughed her face turning brighter with the admission.

“Where is this café, would I know it?”

“It’s downtown, not exactly an area you would frequent I suspect. But it’s close to where I live and it’s a friendly neighbourhood.” Her face glowing as she described the area.

“I know downtown. You’re right though; I hardly visit there. Maybe I’ll try it one day, who knows.” Xandra smiled briefly at her PA. The kid was far too nice, wonder if anyone ever took advantage of her? Thinking that brought an awareness of Gayle she hadn’t had before, it was disconcerting.

“Where do you go?” not really expecting an answer.

“Me? Well, I don’t really go anywhere, except home. Might go to Max’s late in the evening. I don’t go story telling if that’s what you’re asking?” Her eyes held the emerald ones in a piercing look.

Feeling as if she had been caught in the headlights of an on-coming car, she tried to move away from the blue hypnotic gaze, but it was impossible.

“I didn’t think you would.” Gayle eventually rasped out, her breath becoming uneven.

Turning away suddenly Xandra, gave her a small smile. “Well, you better go or you might be late for your story telling. Do they pay you by the way?”

Gayle laughed self-consciously, “Yes, but in food, I get a decent meal, its very good food, Greek cuisine.”

“Greek huh? My mother was...is Greek.”

“I know.” Gayle answered softly.

Xandra looked at her and nodded her head. “Good night Gayle, knock them dead.”

“I hope not! Good night Ms. Stavros.” She closed the door after her.

Xandra went over to the window of her office and looked out at the darkening skies. “Greek huh? Wonder if it was as good as her mother's used to be?” With that thought she shook her head and went back over to her more complex problems.

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Two

Gayle walked into the medium sized Greek café in her neighbourhood. It went by the name of ‘Naxos’. It was the name of a small Greek island and Gayle had often wondered if it had significance to the owner. She stepped further inside the café, which she always considered to be typical of a tavern in Greece, or at least what she had read about them. Her aim one-day was to travel to Greece and see as much of the mainland and some of the islands as she could manage. It was a dream. One she didn’t exactly see coming true anytime soon… maybe a retirement plan!

Her eyes alighted on the owner and she gave a big smile as she was motioned over to sit beside Cyrene. “Ah, my dear, you are late. I was beginning to think that you had forgotten us tonight.” Cyrene chuckled as she saw the flustered look come over the face of the blonde.

“No…no, I was late getting off from work. You know how it is? I would never give up the opportunity of eating your food Cyrene. You know that?” Gayle laughed softly.

“So the paragon has kept you late again! That woman needs a life!” Cyrene stated cuttingly, her eyes taking on a cold look as she thought of Gayle’s employer.

“Cyrene please! Ms. Stavros didn’t keep me late. She was very busy and has to go abroad in a couple of weeks. So, it's quite normal for us to work late.” Gayle looked at the older woman with a pleasant grin.

“I still don’t know how you manage to work for her. She is so very different from you.” Cyrene gave her friend a piercing look.

“Well, opposites attract, so they say. I guess the expression could be used in our business working relationship. It appears to work out for both of us and she does pay very well.” Gayle chuckled and patted her friend’s hand.

“How is she?” Cyrene asked her quietly.

“She works too hard and she didn’t even know it was the weekend, but otherwise she looks very good.” Gayle answered her equally as quietly.

“My daughter was never one to waste time on leisure pursuits. That is one of her failings, and as we both know, she has few of those.” Cyrene smiled at the gentle understanding in the emerald eyes opposite her.

“Yeah, she certainly doesn’t appear to have anything like an Achilles heal now does she?” Gayle smiled briefly as she thought of her employer.

“I know of one, but Xandra would never get into a position where she’s likely to experience it.” Cyrene said in an almost wistful tone.

“That would be?” Gayle asked knowing that Cyrene might not add to the information.

“Love Gayle… love is something my daughter wouldn’t attempt to experience, but if she ever does, well that will be a totally different story I can tell you.”

“Love? Well, it does strange things to people that’s for sure.” Gayle remarked in an absent way.

“Little one, when you experience it, believe me, for you it will be a wonderful experience. You are definitely not like my daughter!” Cyrene smiled at her young friend. “Now come on, the public awaits you. What have you got for us tonight?” Gayle swiftly weaved her way towards the corner of the room that was set up for the storytellers or the musicians that performed.

Cyrene Stavros watched the bubbly blonde walk onto the corner stage to enthusiastic applause, many of her clientele were regulars and they all knew and liked Gayle. She had a very animated way of telling a story and getting people interested and even involved, especially when she attempted some of the old fairy stories and legends.

Glancing out of the window of the café, she was once again reminded of her daughter, ‘What must it be now…thirteen years since they had last seen each other? Yes, it must be that at least.’

If it hadn’t been for a chance meeting with Gayle two years ago, when she ventured into the café and had accidentally been pushed into Cyrene by a vagrant who was trying to steal some wine from a table, she would probably still be in ignorance regarding her only daughter. Gayle had managed by accident it would seem to not only push over Cyrene, but also the vagrant before he could do any damage or scare away the customers. They had set up a friendship from that very day and it had grown stronger as the months went on. Gayle would briefly mention her employer, but it wasn’t until Christmas of the first year that Xandra’s name was mentioned. Cyrene had paled when she heard about her daughter and became curious about her only daughter and her presence in this young woman’s life. Finally she had admitted to Gayle that she was Xandra’s mother. They were estranged due to a business deal that went drastically wrong years earlier. ‘Now she knew first hand about her daughter, from this very caring and totally loyal young woman. I often wonder if you realise what a wonderful woman you have working on your side Xandra? I doubt it. You never did much care to get involved on a personal level, even with me! Strange how I know more about you now from this woman’s perspective, than I ever did when we shared the same house together… strange how things work out.’ Turning back to the café and the rousing applause Gayle was getting, Gayle really should think about a career change.

* * * * * * * * * *

Xandra got up from her chair in the office and contemplated what she would do with the rest of her Friday evening. It was now after eight p.m. and she hadn’t had dinner yet! Recalling her earlier conversation with her PA, she wondered what the establishment was like that Gayle told stories in and just how good was she at that particular pastime? Sighing heavily she hadn’t even noticed it was the weekend!

'Hell, what a life huh? She had no social commitments worth noting and none worth expending the effort. What was all this power and money for, if she didn’t have a reason to spend any.' Going over to the window of her office, she watched the snowflakes coming down and realised that Christmas wasn’t that far away. Should she make arrangements to ski in Aspen or should she just work like she usually did and sleep the day away in the apartment.

‘When had my life become so barren? I work my staff to the limit and for no good reason. There should always be time for a personal life, but I don’t have one so why should anyone else!’ Her thoughts went to her friend Matt. He watched over her she knew it. Xandra also knew that if it wasn’t for the fact that his wife Angela was also an old friend, he wouldn’t be working for her now, for his family meant a great deal to him as it should.

Turning around and shutting down her computer she picked up her briefcase and walked towards the door and the cold snowy night.

‘Got to find someplace to eat,’ was her last thought exiting the building.

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Three

Gayle was finishing the last part of her story for the night, when she glanced over to the door and saw a late arrival. It certainly was late too; the majority of the customers had eaten, or were on desserts, and Naxos’ closed around ten. Not recognising the latecomer who had their back turned to her, she carried on with her story and ten minutes later she basked in the applause.

Gerard came over to her and said the party in the far corner facing the door had asked if she would accept a drink for a wonderful story told.

“Gerard, they didn’t even hear three-quarters of it! Please tell them thank you, but it’s late and I need something to eat.” Gayle smiled at the young man who had a crush on her and followed her about like a lap dog when she came in the café.

“Okay, but…” Seeing the blonde shake her head, he went back with the message.

Gayle gathered her belongings and settled herself at the table she had previously been at when talking to Cyrene. The owner would be in the kitchen supervising the clean up and would probably join Gayle just before closing time for a final chat. Ordering her food, she loved souvlaki and always managed to get the largest portion Chef Constantine could possibly provide for her. She was totally unprepared when a shadow crossed her table and diminished the half-light of the candle on the table, looking up; she gave a small gasp and put her hand to her mouth.

“Well, that’s an usual reaction, I must say.” The mystery person gave her a wry look.

“You…you, I don’t understand.” Gayle managed to choke out.

“Mmmm, for one so well versed in the art of story telling, you are having a hard time articulating to me Gayle.” Xandra Carmicheal-Stavros chuckled at her PA’s discomfort.

“I wasn’t expecting to see you… it was a shock.” Gayle explained. ‘God, wait until Cyrene sees her. Now that will be interesting.’

“Is it a good shock or a bad one?” Xandra raised an eyebrow in question.

Gayle smiled weakly. “A good one I think… unless you want me to go back to work.”

“No, I’ve finished for the day, so you certainly have!” Xandra looked over to her table and saw her food arriving.

“My dinner is being served, would you like to join me?” Xandra asked tentatively. Maybe Gayle had a dinner partner; she didn’t exactly know that much about her PA’s life outside the office.

“Well, I’ve just ordered mine, but sure. I’ll tell Gerard to serve it at your table. Thanks for the offer of a drink by the way.” Gayle got up from her chair and suddenly it was held back for her.

“No problem. You are a good story teller.” Xandra replied nonchalantly, a faint smile passing over her full lips as she saw Gayle blush slightly at her ‘gentlemanly’ gesture with the chair.

As most of the other customers had left, Xandra and Gayle had finally finished off the remains of their meal. Xandra was astounded at how much food such a small compact person could consume! “You eat like this all the time?”

Gayle laughed softly and winked at her. “No. I wouldn’t have any money left to live if I came here every night, and ate this amount of food, but tonight it’s my salary for the story telling so…”

“You’re good, maybe you’re in the wrong vocation?” Xandra asked her seriously.

“Not really. I love to do this, but where do you know places that pay what you pay me for this type of service?” Gayle smiled warmly at her employer.

They hadn’t talked much, basically just consumed the dishes that had been sent out to them. Xandra had wanted to try several and the glow in her eyes as she tried morsels of each of the dishes, had fully justified the reputation of the small café. ‘Cyrene would be proud.’

“Perhaps. The food is very good, reminds me of home or my Greek roots shall we say.” Xandra responded in a relaxed way. She was now leaning back in the chair observing her PA, who looked ridiculously young to her!

“You say your mother is Greek, is your father also?” Gayle was sure he wasn’t, especially with her hyphenated surname.

“My father is an American. You might have heard of him?” Xandra asked her in interest.

“I’ve never heard of a Carmicheal-Stavros other than yourself.” Gayle offered by way of an answer.

“Ah, no you wouldn’t. I’m the only one with that title; it is a combination of my father's name and my mothers. Doesn’t take a genius to guess which one belongs to my mother.” Xandra gave her a half smile, but it didn’t get as far as her eyes.

“Stavros right?” Gayle chuckled and then reflected on how many Carmicheal’s she knew. “I’m at a loss with your father. I don’t think I know him?”

“Know him? Hell! I sincerely hope you don’t and never do!” Xandra said tersely. Her face took on its usual blanked off look, as if nothing interested her in the world around her.

“Why did you come here tonight?” Gayle asked her quietly, she didn’t like being put outside the door as if she was an interloper.

“No reason other than I wanted to eat.” Xandra offered her face stony and un-communicative.

“I see. Well, I guess it’s time to go and I need to see the owner before I leave. I hope you have a good weekend Ms. Stavros.” Gayle offered back politely and scrapped back her chair.

“Do you need a lift home?” Xandra was a little surprised at the sudden departure of her PA. Was it something she’d said?

Gayle looked at her in surprise and she shook her head. “No thanks. I walk home with the owner of the café. We live close to each other.”

Xandra didn’t know what to say, it was only ten-thirty and she had enjoyed the company of her PA. Although they hadn’t talked that much, or at least, she hadn’t. Gayle had talked about trivial stuff, but entertaining nonetheless.


Gayle heard the almost, was it sadness permeate out of that one word?

“I…I well if you ever want to share dinner again, let me know.” What more could she say as she turned, she said a quiet goodnight.

Xandra inclined her head and watched Gayle walk gracefully over to a woman who was seated in an alcove, her back to them. She felt bereft when Gayle had gone from her direct view. Now why was that? Continuing to stare out of the window at the gathering snow on the ground, it was the sort of night you huddled with someone close beside a roaring fire, maybe a bottle of good wine and…. Enough of that, she didn’t have anyone to share that particular scene with… and the way she was going she never would!

Gerard took that moment to ask her if she needed anything else.

Xandra eyed the young man and thought he was passably good looking and probably the type of boy that would make fine husband material later in life. Maybe he was a friend of Gayle’s and that’s why she’d really declined the offer of a lift home… it was possible. Not her type! Now that was the second time today that she’d dismissed a candidate for Gayle’s hand, without a second thought.

“Just the check.”

He returned quickly and she was surprised at the total of the check. Her surprise obviously showing itself. Gerard asked if she had a problem.

“No, no its fine.” She gave a generous tip and asked him to hand a tip to the chef, Gerard grinned.

Picking up her purse, she walked quickly and silently over to the coat stand. There appeared to be few around, even Gayle and her friend the owner had disappeared. Collecting her overcoat, she put it on and opened the door and was immediately covered with snowflakes that were tumbling from the sky at an amazing speed. Tomorrow was going to be a pain to get the car out of the drive.

Gayle went back into the main part of the café, after seeing Constantine about the amazing food he had sent to the table. When Gerard had taken in Xandra’s tip, the man had almost keeled over it was a hundred-dollar bill. It was more than double the total check. He was muttering in Greek as Cyrene came back and asked what the commotion was about and Gayle went after Xandra.

The room was now empty, her boss having departed. Gayle walked over to the window and looked out. She saw Xandra opening her car door and watched as she climbed into the front seat of the Jeep Cherokee.

Cyrene chose that moment to come over to Gayle and asked who the mystery lady was she’d had dinner with? And who had made all her staff’s day with her heavy gratuities?

“You’ll never believe it!” Gayle replied quietly, not knowing what reaction she was going to get.

“Well, tell me first and I’ll tell you if I believe it or not.” Cyrene smiled at the young woman and Gayle was reminded of Xandra’s smile as she looked at Cyrene.

“None other than your daughter.” Gayle waited for the explosion. There wasn’t one, Cyrene just sank down into the nearest chair and looked shocked.

Sitting down next to her, she put a hand on Cyrene’s in understanding.

“I kind of looked like that but in front of her too!” Gayle chuckled gently.

“Why?” came a small whispered plea?

“Would you believe, because she wanted to eat? I asked her that myself.”

“Does she know it’s my place?”

“I never told her and she didn’t see you, so I doubt it. Would it matter?”

“Not to me but maybe to her, it’s been a long time.” Cyrene stated solemnly.

“She might be back. Xandra loved the food.” Gayle smiled gently at her friend.

“Well, she would, she’s always loved Constantine’s cooking and she always tried out his new recipes for him… the test case was my kid.” Cyrene allowed a sweet memory of her daughter to surface.

“How long has she known Constantine?” Gayle was interested her boss hadn’t given much away and probably never would.

“Since she was three I guess, when her father left us. Constantine was a widower and he had just opened up a small café in the Greek quarter. I needed work and he let Xandra come along too. It worked out for both of us. Now I own the place and Con. cooks on the weekend. He’s getting too old for the business side and never was that interested. He left it to me to work out almost from the beginning. It has been a good partnership.” Cyrene smiled as she thought of her large jovial friend, who had provided the haven she needed in the early days.

“Have you ever been… well, what I mean to say is are you…!” Gayle stuttered over the words. Personal questions never being her strong suit.

Cyrene burst out laughing at the self-conscious remark from her young friend. “No, Constantine and I are very good friends, but purely platonic. He loved his late wife to distraction. Had it not been for my problems and Xandra, I doubt he would be still alive today. We gave him a family feeling again. He has given us his love and friendship in return.” Cyrene looked over to the kitchen area.

“Has Xandra not seen him either since you and she had your altercation?” Gayle asked tentatively.

“Xandra, decided to cut herself off from her family. Constantine is family too! The answer therefore sadly is yes.” Cyrene responded flatly.

Suddenly a cold blast of air pushed into the room as the door to the café opened and in stepped a tall figure covered in snowflakes.  Shaking her hair free of the snow and brushing away the excess flakes onto the floor, Xandra glanced at the two figures in semi-darkness in the room and she looked at Gayle.

“Why have you come back?” Gayle gasped out, moving quickly to stand in front of Cyrene.

“Thanks for the welcome! I thought I might offer you a lift again. The weather is pretty foul out there. Especially if you’re going to walk.” Xandra explained patiently, but was surprised that Gayle had obscured the view from the other occupant in the room.

“That’s very nice of you but…” Gayle didn’t finish.

“I can take your friend home too, it’s not a problem. So, are you coming or not?” Xandra almost lost her patience. Why was Gayle looking so worried?

“It’s okay. We can walk. Seriously Ms. Stavros, we don’t want to put you out.” Gayle finished lamely.

“You’re not putting me out yet! But if you don’t get a move on you might just do it.” Xandra was exasperated ‘for god’s sake it was only a lift home.’

The scrapping of the chair behind Gayle caught both their attentions. Cyrene moved from behind Gayle. “I think Gayle is worried that you will object to me being the other passenger Xandra.”

The silence in the room as Xandra eyed her mother in surprise, astonishment and wariness, but not hostility… was palatable.

Finally Xandra ended the silence and she quirked an eyebrow in Cyrene’s direction. “Mother, how have you been?” polite, cautious and not aggressive.

“Very well Xandra, and you?” Cyrene looked at her daughter with a mirror expression it fascinated Gayle.

“Can’t complain, but there again you would know all about me, if your friend is my PA now wouldn’t you?” Her sarcasm directed at Gayle.

“Gayle is very discreet. She doesn’t say much about you at all. You have a very loyal aide Xandra.” Cyrene defended Gayle.

Xandra turned her head in the direction of the kitchen and inclined her head as she spoke. “I think I know the answer to this, but was the chef for tonight ‘Tiny’?” A small impish smile framed her lips as she spoke.

“Yeah. You just made his day with the tip you gave him.” Cyrene gave a small chuckle.

Without asking she walked past the two women and into the kitchen area and spied the man she had from a child called ‘Tiny’. Although, he was far from that, but she had difficulty with his name when she was a small child and the nickname stuck. However, she had been the only one ever to be allowed to use it.

“Tiny?” Xandra said softly, but loud enough for the old man to hear her.

Xandra saw him stiffen at the name and he slowly turned to the bearer of the voice. Constantine was surprised for the second time in the night, a ghost from the past without a doubt.

“Xandra is that you?” he asked in his loud voice.

“Yes, Tiny it’s me!” Xandra’s voice sounded husky.

Walking quickly towards her, he engulfed her in a bear hug that almost squeezed the air from her lungs. Laughing she finally disengaged herself from him and she was held out at arm’s length and appraised.

“Why, you’ve grown some more young lady. How tall are you now?”

“Around six I think. Last time I checked for my passport. Great to see you Tiny.” Xandra said sincerely and with affection.

“Little one, you have been away too long. Has your mama seen you yet?” His eyes took on a guarded look as he mentioned Cyrene.

“Yes, I’ve seen her you old fool.” Cyrene said from the doorway, watching the two of them together.

“That beautiful woman Gayle tells us that you are fine, but she wouldn’t say much else. We ask she’s says nothing. So what have you been doing these last thirteen years little one?” Turning around to look at her mother she noticed that Gayle wasn’t there.

“Where’s Gayle?”

“She’s gone. Said it looked like a family reunion, so she would head home.” Cyrene said softly. Watching the play of emotions on her daughter’s face.

“On her own? I offered her a lift!” Xandra said in confusion.

“No, Gerard will walk her home. She doesn’t live far. She thought it best.” Cyrene explained.

“She thought it for the best? What does she know? Where does she live?” Xandra demanded, angry that Gayle hadn’t told her personally and to go off with the young man also insulted her in some way.

“Don’t you know?” Cyrene asked her innocently.

“No! Why should I know?” Xandra said indignantly.

Cyrene smiled and linked her arm in Constantine’s and said a few words in Greek to him that Xandra was to pre-occupied to notice. He beamed at the words. “You want some of my Greek coffee, specially made.” Constantine asked Xandra.

“Well, I guess I’ve got a few minutes, why not.” She eyed him suspiciously and then gave her mother a cool glance.

“Good. ‘Little one’ I have missed you trying out my new recipes, are you going to see more of us, so that we can feed you up again. You are so thin." He prodded her ribs.

Suddenly after thirteen years of banishment from her family, she was sitting amongst them again, as if the estranged years had never been. Three hours ago she was alone in the world and now she had a mother. Okay, perhaps that was going to take time, a dear friend she loved and had missed deeply. And maybe she had made a new friend in her PA, maybe! “If you want to try again, sure I will too!” She finally responded.

Cyrene smiled briefly and went to fetch the coffee cups, ‘Tiny’ went about making the coffee and Xandra watched them in comfortable silence.

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Four

Gayle looked out over the lawn of her small house, which she’d decided to rent rather than an apartment. She always liked the idea of a space outside of her own, even if it was a little more expensive than she originally wanted to pay. The snow had fallen heavily that evening and Xandra had been right when she’d said it would be difficult to get home. It had taken twice as long. But Gerard was good company and he’d made her laugh. They had thrown snowballs at each other under the light of the street lamps. It had been fun and helped take her mind off her boss and the predicament she now knew she was in. Xandra was going to be a little angry; she had no doubt about that at all!

Putting both arms around her middle, she hugged herself against the cold and decided that the furnace really did need an overhaul. Shivering, she wrinkled her nose; she had kind of left the repair too late now she surmised. Turning her back on the scene from her front porch, she failed to see a vehicle slide to a halt at the front of her drive.

Walking into the kitchen she put on a fresh pot of coffee and thought that today was a good day to sit in front of the PC and do some more of her novel. Leah was due home tomorrow for her monthly visit from college to have Sunday lunch. It had been a ritual with them since their parents had been killed in a car accident. Now Gayle was helping to put Leah through college and although she rarely had any money left over for luxuries, she knew that one-day she would do all the things she dreamed about. Then the doorbell rang and she wondered who it could be in this weather. The snow had begun to fall again and it really was bitterly cold outside.

Looking out of her side window she saw a tall muffled up figure at the door, but it was the familiar Jeep Cherokee that was parked at the head of the drive that made her yank the door open in surprise. “Xandra? Ms. Stavros good morning, is something wrong?” Gayle stammered out.

“No! Good morning to you too!” Xandra replied and although her face hadn’t lost its stoic expression, Gayle noticed her blue eyes sparkle with laughter.

“You can call me Xandra.”

Gayle opened the door wider and motioned for her to come inside. “It’s cold outside.” She said disconcerted by the visit.

“I see you arrived home okay.” Xandra shook the snow from her shoulders and hood of her royal blue fleece jacket, as the flakes falling onto the hallway rug. “Sorry about this.” Xandra apologised at the mess she was making.

“That’s okay, no harm done. Can I get you a coffee?” Gayle smiled at the water starting to form on the floor.

Xandra smiled briefly and nodded her head in affirmation.

“Follow me, the kitchen is the warmest place in the house, next to my bedroom that is! I’m having trouble with the furnace, so I have the system concentrating on those two rooms today.” Gayle babbled as she entered the kitchen.

“Why not get an engineer to clear up the problem.” Xandra said rationally.

“I forgot.” Gayle blushed briefly at the admission.

“Never!” Xandra gave a hearty laugh as she looked at the blonde in front of her. “My super efficient PA has forgotten to do something. I can’t believe it. So, you aren’t such the paragon people in the company think?” Xandra continued to chuckle softly.

“I wasn’t aware that people even talked about me!” Gayle was annoyed at the inference. ‘Surely she wasn’t viewed in that way?’

“Hey, Gayle it was a joke, and no I don’t think they do talk about you. Well not much anyway. Not as much as they do about me!” Xandra tried to lighten the tension that had befallen the conversation.

Gayle turned to her boss and weakly gave her a smile. Pouring out the coffee and passing one over to Xandra complete with honey.

“Wow! You never forget how I like my coffee anyway, so I guess I’ll keep you.”

“I’m sorry about last night.” Gayle settled into the chair next to the taller woman.

Holding her cup of coffee in two hands Xandra looked down into the depths of hers and answered. “It was long overdue and I’m grateful to you for steering me towards the event. Thanks.” Xandra quietly offered her acceptance of the evening and it’s result.

Gayle felt inordinately pleased beyond the words expressed. “Anytime.”

Both women became silent and drank their respective coffees in peaceful thought.

Eventually Gayle asked her why she was here.

“Ah, well, I wanted to find out if you got home okay, and obviously you did. Then I wanted to thank you for last night and your companionship over dinner.” Xandra said her face remaining remote and cool.

“I see.” Was all Gayle could manage to think of to say. What else could she say?

“I wondered if you would like to go to dinner at Mother's with me this evening too?” Xandra rushed out the words and waited for the reply.

“Me!” Gayle squeaked out.

“Yes, you! You know mother and Tiny, so I thought you might be the buffer if things get a little cool.” Xandra explained, her expression thoughtful.

“Whose Tiny?” Gayle asked in interest.  Cyrene hadn’t mentioned that she had anyone else at home, only Constantine.

“Ah, well he won’t like me mentioning it I guess, but Tiny is Constantine. An old childhood thing, you know how they are?” Xandra was a little embarrassed.

“Tiny? He’s not exactly tiny is he?” Gayle laughed at the picture of the large man and his diminutive name.

“No he’s not, but he only let’s me use it,” was Xandra’s justification for the name.

“Just to see that, I’ll come to dinner with your Mom.” Gayle watched a look of, was it disappointment cross Xandra’s face?

“Right that settles that then. May I pick you up, at say seven?” Xandra had a slight smile on her face as she asked.

“I will be ready. Is it formal or not?”

“Not!” Xandra bit out.

“Fine, do you want more coffee?” Gayle offered.

Xandra gave her a long look from her piercing blue eyes and they locked with green ones in a look that for a split second or two connected them at a plane neither of them understood.

“No, that’s okay. I have to go back to the office for a couple of hours. No rest for the wicked, they say.” Xandra broke the look and got up quickly from the chair.

“You’re not wicked, but you do work too hard.” Gayle wished she hadn’t said anything as a shuttered look came over Xandra’s face.

“I’ll let myself out Gayle, see you at seven.” She turned and left the house.

‘I guess that was unexpected.’ Gayle collected the cups and went back to her bedroom and the PC desk and spent the rest of the day trying to write another chapter of her novel. But for some strange reason, a certain employer of hers kept flitting into her mind and her train of thought was toast!

* * * * * * * * * *

Xandra was driving away from Gayle’s home and smiling as she considered the reaction she was having to the younger woman. It had been ages since she had considered trying to cultivate a friend, never mind a female one. Hell, it must have been college when she had made the last of her friends and that had been Matt, Angela and Emma Philips. Matt and Angela had married and that hadn’t surprised anyone they had always been close in college and nothing changed when the three friends all worked in the same company. Emma was Emma! She had a rich daddy, who didn’t mind if she never worked just as long as she stayed out of his way. Emma had a business degree, but rarely used it. Wasn’t she in Florida now? Anyway that had been the extent of her attempts at friendship. Her ultimate estrangement from her mother, the only family she had ever known, had given her a resolve never to get involved with anyone on a personal level again. She hadn’t until now.

Turning into the main expressway into the city she was forced to admit that Gayle was on her thoughts constantly after last evening. She couldn’t ever remember that happening before. "Must be everything happening at once. That’s got to be the answer," she spoke to herself out loud.

Her building came into view and she manoeuvred into the empty car park. The weather and the fact that few worked on a Saturday gave the place a lonely feel.

‘Maybe she should have accepted another coffee with Gayle. It would have been better than the one she would have to endure from the vending machine. Still, tonight she would have the pleasant company of her PA for more than a couple of hours, all evening in fact.’ That thought made her grin and she whistled as she entered the building and went through the security screening. ‘Kind of a nice thought to spend her Saturday evening with her family and hopefully…friend!’

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Five

Xandra was dressed in khaki chinos and a white thick cotton shirt. Her boots were more suited for hiking than a dinner appointment, but the weather was appalling. Her thick sheepskin jacket was insulating her against the bitterly cold wind. Crunching up the stairs to the front door of Gayle’s house, she smiled at the thought of spending her Saturday with other people beside business associates, although, technically, Gayle could be viewed that way. However, as far as Xandra was concerned, tonight she was a friend only. Rapping on the door and ignoring the bell, she waited for Gayle to open the door. She didn’t have to wait long as Gayle opened the door within a minute and gestured for her to enter. Xandra moved through the doorway and stepped onto the doormat and Gayle pushed the door shut behind her and moved passed Xandra towards the stairs.

“Hi, Xandra. Can you give me a couple of minutes? I just need to dab on some perfume and put some earrings in.” Gayle smiled brightly as she went up the stairs two at a time.

“No problem.” Xandra watched her go, and a wry smile crossed her face. Gayle was wearing a bright blue blouse in crushed silk; it looked like a match for Xandra’s eyes. She was also wearing a black leather skirt to her knees and small ankle length black boots. Her legs encased in possibly silk stockings or tights.

Xandra didn’t move from her position at the door. She didn’t want the snow that had descended on her to move any further than the doormat. Waiting patiently she looked at the two prints either side of the hall walls and smiled. She had the originals in her apartment! Seems they had the same taste in art as well as food.

Gayle rushed down the stairs and smiled again at the waiting woman, who smiled briefly back at her. Gayle went into the kitchen and turned off the lights and then grabbed a coat from the coat stand in the hallway.

“I think I’m ready, shall we go?” Gayle said breathlessly.

Xandra gave her an odd look. “Are you always this…excited at the prospect of dinner?”

Gayle laughed a tinkling sound. “Ah, but this is different. It’s the best cooking in town and you have invited me too! I’m sure it’s better than sex, Constantine’s cooking that is…”

“Well, I’m sure Tiny will be pleased that his cooking is in such fine company as sex, but tonight my mother is cooking.” Xandra noticed the blush forming on Gayle’s face and couldn’t help but smirk at her embarrassment.

“Shall we go?” Gayle finally got enough composure together to ask.

“Yeah, why not!” Xandra smiled her blue eyes twinkling as she opened the door and held it for Gayle to go through. Gayle looked at Xandra in quiet confusion as she held the door and then turned to face her as she closed the door and Gayle held the key out to lock the door.


Gayle followed Xandra to the Jeep Cherokee and was amazed when Xandra held the door for her, so she stepped in and was immediately enfolded in the warm cosy interior of the vehicle. Xandra followed swiftly round to the driver’s side and got in and inserted the key and started the engine.

“Are you comfortable?”

“Sure, it’s very nice inside. First time I’ve been in one before.” Gayle admitted shyly.

“In a vehicle or a jeep?” Xandra asked as she negotiated the corner of the street skilfully.

Gayle turned to her and wondered if she was serious. “A jeep silly.”

“Ah! I thought as much. It is practical for the time of year.” Xandra looked at her briefly and then back to the road.

“Yeah. It’s great for this type of weather. Do you know where Cyrene lives?” Gayle wasn’t sure she would know.

“Oh, yes. I know where my mother lives. I wonder if it’s changed much?” Xandra remarked absently.

“Of course, you would know if you lived there previously. I’m sorry.” Gayle blushed again at her stupid comment.

“No problem Gayle. You couldn’t have known.” Xandra dismissed it immediately as irrelevant.

Negotiating the turn into the street that Cyrene lived, and within seconds they had pulled up on the drive to the house and Xandra had turned off the engine. Taking a deep breath, she had forgotten for a moment that Gayle was with her.

Gayle noticed the nervous reaction and felt pity for the taller woman. It can’t be easy to take up on family life after abandoning it years before. Issues still had to be resolved. Placing her hand on the taller woman’s arm, she smiled tentatively at her as Xandra turned to Gayle in surprise at the action. Xandra placed one of her larger hands on the smaller hand and patted it acknowledging the gesture.

“Right! Let’s get to dinner. I really must see if mother’s cooking is up to ‘Tiny’s’. Especially when it is rated higher than sex in my PA’s eyes.” Xandra laughed at the blush once again returning to Gayle’s cheeks.

“You’re not going to let me forget that are you?” Gayle asked her as she opened the door to let herself out of the vehicle.

“Probably not!” Xandra replied as she too got out of the vehicle and locked it. She walked around to where Gayle stood. The snow was forming on her shoulders and in her hair.

“You’re getting wet.” Xandra brushed the snow from her hair and led her by the arm towards the enclosed porch.

“Not the first time, won’t be the last I suspect.” Gayle rushed towards the relative shelter of the porch.

Xandra walked immediately behind her and they both went for the doorbell at the same time. Gayle moved away as their hands collided, it was after all, Xandra’s mother’s home. Pushing the bell, they both waited for it to be opened.

A beaming Constantine opened the door and welcomed them into the house, hugging both women cheerfully.

“Tiny. Good to see you again.” Xandra smiled happily at the big bear of a man that had been her family.

Gayle smiled at the scene of the big man who was her friend and the tall woman who was her boss and she hoped a friend too! Cyrene chose that moment to come out of the kitchen and her smile turned brighter as she saw her daughter.

“Xandra, I’m glad you came and Gayle lovely to see you also!” Cyrene pulled Gayle into a hug and whispered a quiet thank you in her ear. Gayle smiled at her and gently pushed her towards her daughter.

Mother and daughter eyed each other cautiously for a few moments and then Cyrene pulled her daughter into a hug and kissed both cheeks in welcome.

“Welcome home Xandra.”

“Thanks!” Xandra was a little startled by the emotional undercurrents, but managed to hold her own.

“Let’s go and sit in the dining room. I have everything ready.” Cyrene went towards the open door of the other room and Tiny followed her.

“I guess they’re pre-occupied.” Xandra said with a chuckle as she helped Gayle off with her coat.

Gayle laughed and happily surrendered her coat to the reluctant hostess. “Yeah.”

They both walked after the older couple smiling.

* * * * * * * * * *

Four hours later and the coffee still being served, it was proving to be a beautiful evening for all parties.

Gayle learnt all about Xandra’s childhood and her numerous scrapes. She had been a very adventurous child and not easy to control.

Xandra learnt that Gayle’s parents were dead and that she was helping put her younger sister Leah through college. Gayle had told the tragic circumstances of her parents death and her own persistence in sending her younger sister through school. Nothing was too much, as far as she was concerned for her only sister.

Cyrene, Tiny and Xandra were compassionate and Xandra was once more very pleased to have the younger woman on her side of the fence.

“So, Gayle how much longer do you have to finance your sister's education?” Xandra asked her eyebrow rising in question, but her face held a serious expression.

Gayle looked across at the woman who had been seated opposite her all night. She noticed the raised eyebrow action and had seen the serious countenance on many occasions since she’d worked for Xandra. It usually meant she didn’t like something or a situation disturbed her. “Another year then I’m done. Leah will be on her own two feet and able to get on with her life.”

Xandra looked into her coffee cup and mussed that point for a few seconds and then locked her blue eyes with the green directly in front of her. “And her chosen career would be?”

“She wants to be like you!” Gayle didn’t look down wondering what Xandra would make of that.

Xandra laughed and Tiny joined her, Cyrene looked at Gayle with interest.

“I hope you’ve disillusioned her,” was the only comment from Xandra.

“No. I think you make a great role model. You just need to relax a little more.” Gayle smiled at her, which brought a chuckle from Cyrene.

Xandra gave her a wry smile and glanced at her mother in mock horror at the thought. “And how pray do you think I could do that?”

All eyes around the table were levelled at Gayle. She blushed a little at the regard.

“You could go home earlier from the office? You could spend more time with your…family?" Gayle glanced around at that and noticed the smiles of the two older people at the table. “You could spend more time with your friends?” Gayle finished off abruptly.

Xandra got up from her seat at the table and walked over to the window to watch the snow falling heavily outside the window. Gayle mouthed a silent apology to Cyrene for apparently spoiling the evening. Cyrene smiled at her and shook her head and then she gave her daughter a tender glance, who had her back turned to them.

“She’s right of course Xandra. You could spend more time with your family!” Cyrene compounded the statement from Gayle.

A heavy shrug was her only reply, refusing to turn and acknowledge the views of the others.

Tiny decided to take his leave and place a light kiss on Cyrene’s brow and he patted Gayle’s shoulder in understanding, before walking over to Xandra and whispered something to her in Greek. This time she turned and was placed in a bear like hug, as she whispered something back to him in the same language.

Cyrene took the opportunity to pick up some of the debris from the table and waived off the protest by Gayle that she would help.

“No. Keep my daughter entertained Gayle. If you can that is!” With that Cyrene left them in the room alone together.

Gayle looked at the brooding figure of her boss and wondered if going home might be the best option. It was after all nearly midnight, and surely Xandra would want to get home.

“Shall we leave?”

“Leave?” Xandra sounded startled at the question.

“Yeah, it’s late. The weather is getting worse and I’m sure you want to get home.” Gayle patiently pointed out.

Xandra looked out of the window as if she hadn’t particularly noticed before. “I guess you’re right, the weather is somewhat bleak out. I’ll go and tell mother.” Xandra walked into the kitchen area.

Gayle stood up and went to collect their outer coats, waiting in the hall for her employer. She heard the voices of the two women talking, but in Greek, so… no eavesdropping for her. That brought a smile to her face at the mischievous thought.

Then both of them appeared and Cyrene’s arm was around her daughter’s waist and they were both smiling. ‘I guess she’s going to be spending more time with the family.’ Gayle thought and smiled inwardly.

Xandra noticed the crinkling around Gayle’s eyes, which always indicated she was happy. Her eyes then noticed her position with her mother. She gave Gayle a grin; her eyes passing the message that she was right about one part of the answer anyway.

Cyrene removed her arm from Xandra and went across to Gayle, who was handing Xandra’s coat over to her.

“Thank you Gayle. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for bringing my daughter back into my life. We will be forever indebted to you and we Greek will never forget this!” Cyrene placed her arms around Gayle and gave a kiss on each cheek. “Keep safe little one. Keep her safe too!”

Gayle looked at Cyrene in surprise at the last comment.

Xandra watched the two of them and smiled briefly before going to the door and placing her hand on the doorknob in readiness to open against the weather front outside.

“I’ll see you next week Mother. It’s my treat for dinner. I’ll be in touch. Ready Gayle?”

* * * * * * * * * *

Gayle’s house was in view as Xandra pulled partially up the drive and stopped the car.

“Thanks for inviting me tonight Xandra. I really enjoyed it.” Gayle looked down at her gloved hands, twisting then nervously in her lap. They hadn’t talked much on the way back, if at all.

“Yes, it was good wasn’t it? My mother always could cook up a mean feast." Xandra chuckled as she recalled all her favourite foods being placed before her this evening. It had been a gourmet treat for her and watching Gayle eat discreetly. She knew that the small blonde had enjoyed it just as much if not more.

“She certainly can! Well, I guess I’d better say goodnight and go in.” Gayle smiled shyly at the tall woman, who was watching her profile.

“Okay, I guess you had better.” Xandra replied quietly.

Turning in her seat to open the door, she jumped out of the jeep and slid a little in the snow, holding onto the car door she managed to right herself before she fell face down in the snow… not a good idea.

“You okay?” Xandra asked concerned as she swiftly exited her side and came round to where the other woman was standing.

“Yeah, stupid huh?” Gayle smiled and moved a lock of her hair from her eyes and glanced into the blue of her boss’s.

“I’ll walk you to your door. Can’t have my f…PA getting hurt and not able to work Monday.” Xandra spoke quickly and held onto Gayle’s elbow to support her up the drive.

“Thanks,” she exhaled breathlessly.

Gayle looked around for her key and was flustered to find that she didn’t have it on her person.

“I’ve kind of misplaced my key.” She looked sheepishly at Xandra.

The tall woman looked at her in concern, wondering what action they might have to take to get into the house.

“Hey, hold on! I locked the door.” She fished in her pocket and brought out Gayle’s key.

Opening the door, she passed the key to Gayle and stood away from the door to allow Gayle inside. Turning to Xandra Gayle smiled her thanks. “Goodnight Xandra.”

“Goodnight Gayle,” she turned away and headed for the car.

Gayle watched Xandra reach the car, before she suddenly turned and ran back, almost slipping herself on the icy surface. Gayle watched her fascinated.

“I was wondering what you were doing tomorrow?” Xandra looked down at the tips of her boots as she asked, a red stain coming over her cheeks.

Gayle looked at her in delighted surprise. “Nothing, why?”

“Would you like to do something together?” Xandra glanced up at Gayle and she saw the bright smile on her PA’s face.

“Sure, but why?” Gayle asked her seriously.

Xandra shifted around on the spot and eventually answered. “You said spend some time with friends. I was kind of hoping I’d made a friend who I could share that with?” her voice hopeful.

Gayle laughed softly and reached out a gloved hand to take her arm in understanding. “You have. You did. I’d love to spend the day with you friend!” Gayle spoke gently to her ‘new’ friend.

“Great! I’ll be around early in the morning.” Xandra gave her a broad grin and turned back to her car.

“Hey, Xandra, not too early. I like to sleep in on a Sunday!” Gayle responded with laughter in her voice.

“Okay, I’ll be around at nine then. See you tomorrow or is it today?” Xandra pulled open the door and got in without another glance and revved up the car.

Gayle watched her leave with a large grin plastered on her own face.

“God, I’ve got to get up before nine? Well, it will be worth it… for my friend!” Gayle said the words into the cold air and closed the door of the house. Smiling happily, she shed her coat and walked to her room.

* * * * * * * * * *

Xandra drove home in a daze. Within twenty-four hours, she had gone from being alone, to having her family back speaking to her again and looking like it could work out. To also having gained a friend, one she knew that instinctively she could trust. What a life!

Today, her light had definitely reached the end of the tunnel and she was looking forward to walking down it for the first time in years.

Chapter Six

There was a loud noise coming from downstairs as Gayle tried to rouse herself from her heavy sleep. Her mind could make out a rapping sound, but her body refused to move out of the warm cocoon that it was enveloped in. ‘Hell it had been freezing when she was going to bed after her evening with Xandra and her family. So, no way was she…Xandra!’

Gayle jumped out of the bed and tumbled over the blanket that was on the floor beside the bed, which had obviously fallen off at some stage during the early morning. Making the adjustment in time to stop an all out fall onto the cold flooring, she wrenched open her bedroom door and ran as fast as her bare feet would take her down the small landing and took the stairs two at a time.

Breathing fast at her energetic run first thing in the morning, which wasn’t normal for her in the slightest. A gentle submission to the day with a decent coffee was her usual acceptance of the early daylight hours.

Her eyes shot to the dark tall figure that dwarfed her external door. She quickly unlocked the door and opened it wide to the early morning visitor. ‘Exactly what time was it?’

Xandra looked at the petite figure of the strawberry blonde and chuckled silently at the sight. She was wearing fleece pj’s with a teddy bear motif over the fabric, cuddly looking cuties at that. Her fair hair was tousled after sleep and her green eyes still looked as if they needed time to wake up. Added to that, it was charming to see small bare feet indicating the haste that the door had been answered in.

“I guess I’m early?” Xandra said laconically and put her dark head to one side as she waited for her reply. It was precisely nine o'clock as she’d knocked on the door.

“No…no absolutely not! I was awake, really I was.” Gayle shot back quickly and felt her feet beginning to freeze. She hated her feet getting cold; it would take her ages to warm up again.

“Awake? Yeah, sure. So you plan on going somewhere dressed like that…?” Xandra mildly pointed out with a half smile as the blonde looked down at her attire.

Guiltily looking back to the taller woman, her heart somersaulted as blue eyes twinkled back at her filled with mirth.

“Sorry. Guess I wasn’t quite awake. I won’t take long if you will wait. Please?” Gayle asked her voice tentative and her eyes pleading.

“You need to go put something on your feet before you freeze them to death.” Xandra answered. She was surprised at how pleased she felt when Gayle gave her a grateful smile back.

“Come in please. I’ll just go shower and be right back. The kitchen is over to the left if you want to make the coffee. All you need to do is switch the machine on.” Gayle threw the last comment over her shoulder as she bounded up the stairs.

Xandra couldn’t help herself, she grinned at the retreating back of the woman. Chuckling softly, she went towards the direction of the kitchen, which she recalled, from the last visit inside the house.

Xandra had made coffee and placed a mug of the steaming brew on the small circular pine table, which had four chairs around it. It was quite cosy and obviously well used by the look of the worn utensils and the cookbooks that looked quite dog-eared to her. Vastly different to her own state of the art, never used facility, in her apartment. Well… not strictly correct, she had used the dishwasher. As she sat with the black coffee in her hands and about to take a sip, she was diverted from the action as Gayle entered into the small room.

“Great! You made coffee. I can’t function without my coffee when I first get out of bed in a morning. What about you?” Gayle asked, her voice sounding friendly and interested.

Xandra was about to answer, when her train of thought was lost as she saw the smaller woman standing before her. The small figure was bundled in a large navy blue sweater that seemed to be at least two sizes to large for her and faded denims leading to what appeared to be grey woollen socks.

Gayle didn’t realise that Xandra was watching her. She happily sauntered over to the machine, poured out the coffee and placed a drop of milk into the black liquid to turn it a dark ivory colour.

As she turned, she saw Xandra grimace, as she tasted her own coffee.

“Is there something wrong with the coffee Xandra?” Gayle asked and masked a smirk as she went closer and peered into the depths of the mug that the taller woman held.

“No. No…it’s…it’s….” Xandra wasn’t going to admit to Gayle that she never drank it this black and that it was way to strong for her. The smaller woman must have a cast iron stomach!

“How about you give that to me and I’ll pour you another.” Gayle smiled winningly at the woman and reached over and took the mug from willing hands.

Xandra watched Gayle walk over to the machine and poured another coffee into a fresh mug, adding milk, then going over to the refrigerator and brought out a small jug. Ladling a spoonful of the golden liquid into the mug, she handed the fresh beverage to the silently watching woman.

Xandra eyed it with suspicion and tried to smell what Gayle had put into the mug… obviously milk, but what else? Taking a tentative sip from the steamy mug, her face broke into a delighted smile, as she tasted the sweetened brew.

“How did you know?” Xandra asked in amazement.

Gayle laughed happily at the woman more so at her surprise.

“Xandra I work for you remember? I make your coffee every working day. You hate your coffee black and you would especially hate mine as it’s stronger than your normal beverage at work. I definitely prefer mine strong.” Gayle pointed out and sat opposite her as she finished her explanation.

Xandra gave her a sheepish look and continued to drink from the very tasty beverage.

“Do you have any idea what you wanted to do today?” Gayle asked conversationally. She wasn’t much for getting up, but once showered and the first intake of caffeine, she usually perked up considerably.

“I was considering taking a ride over to the park. I heard on the radio this morning that the lake had frozen and that the skaters are being allowed out. How are you at skating on ice?” Xandra eyed the woman across from her with a faint grin, not really knowing what to expect as a reply.

Gayle considered the question carefully before she replied.

“I’ve never skated on ice in my life. Well skated at all to be honest, but if you’re game, then so am I!” The enthusiasm literally brimming over as sparkling green eyes looked into amused blue ones.

“Oh, my dear Gayle, I’m definitely game to watch you try skating on ice.” Xandra responded and was inordinately pleased with herself for asking Gayle to spend the day with her.

“Well let’s go then before the crowds beat us to it.” Gayle laughed and put a hand on the tall woman’s shoulder as she went out of the kitchen door.

“Let’s go.” Xandra whispered as Gayle left the room, her face still wreathed in smiles; she was going to enjoy this.

* * * * * * * * * *

“You’re starring at me.” Gayle managed to mumble through the croissant that Xandra had agreed to buy if she could stay up on the skates for one whole minute.

“Yes. Question for you Gayle.” Xandra asked as she continued to stare at the blonde with the ever-sparkling green eyes. Something she had never noticed before in the three years they had worked together.

“Go ahead.” Gayle replied seriously as her eyes continuined to hold the sparkle that was fascinating the woman before her, even if unbeknown to her.

“How is it that for over half an hour the only way you could stay on your feet was when you held onto my hand, but immediately when I said I would buy breakfast and you could have anything you wanted, you surprisingly managed to meet the challenge?” Xandra gave her a puzzled look and watched a rueful expression cross Gayle’s face.

“Aaahh well, it’s like this Xandra, FOOD!” Gayle answered and watched the other woman’s face complete with an obvious questioning frown.

“I don’t quite know what you mean by the term and it’s relationship to food?” Xandra finally responded.

“Xandra if there is the incentive of food, then I’m afraid I will usually make an extra effort to meet the challenge.” Gayle stated seriously and bit into her warm butter filled croissant… the butter dribbling down her chin as she relished the taste.

Xandra gave her a strange look and then grinned. She was certainly different from the office, the tall woman was certain.

“So, that means, if I need you to do something out of the ordinary all I need to do is make the incentive food?”

“Yes, that about covers it.” Gayle laughed and continued to munch on her delicious breakfast treat.

“Do I take it that would cover anything out of the ordinary?” Xandra continued to question the blonde as she picked up her forgotten piece of soggy toast, which didn’t exactly look appetising to her.

“Well, that would depend.” Gayle answered, her suspicions now rising at the continuance of the same question.

“Depend on what?” Xandra was now intrigued as she saw the faint blush, there would always be a ‘depends’.

“I wouldn’t do anything criminal, but pretty much anything else.” Gayle replied. Her voice taking on an innocent charm as she did so, at least to Xandra’s ears.

“Well, I must test out that particular trait of yours Gayle.” Xandra gave her a glance that held serious intent in the blue depths.

“Thought you just had?” Gayle replied as her emerald eyes held in the depths of the blues ones opposite her.

Shaking her head allowing her ebony hair to flow freely about her face she chuckled.

“No. Not yet I haven’t, but I will give me time.”

Gayle looked down at her empty plate and then back to the face of the woman who had been an enigma to her for years, and was now opening up as their friendship grew at a speed that astonished both of them she suspected.

“Take all the time you want. I’m not going anywhere.” Gayle’s voice held a confidence that made the older woman smile her acceptance.

Inclining her head forward at the statement she gave Gayle a wry smile. “Can I hold you to that?”

Although the question came out in a bantering tone, Gayle felt sure she heard a serious note behind the words.

“Yes.” A simple enough word that could and did hold a wealth of meaning.

“Are you about ready to move on?” Xandra asked as she looked at the empty plate of her new friend.

“Yes, that will hold me until lunch.” Gayle pushed back her chair and saw the look of surprise pass over Xandra’s face.

Raising her eyebrows in question Gayle waited for an answer to her unspoken question. “It’s only a couple of hours until lunch. I thought perhaps dinner would be the next meal.”

“Xandra, I never skip my meals. I always have breakfast, lunch and dinner, I heard it was the healthy way to eat.” Gayle responded and smiled engagingly at her.

“You could be right on that one, but I often skip the earlier meals and have dinner.” Xandra offered an insight into her own personal habits.

Gayle tutted at that as they exited the café. She extolled Xandra on the benefits of having a decent meal regime in her life. Pointing out all the problems that befall people with a lifestyle she had adopted.

Xandra just let the strawberry blonde chatter away. She did look down at her body and smirk at the remarks Gayle was making, but she let her continue just enjoying the feeling of companionship she had found was being created with this woman at her side.

“So, when the little pink dog talked to the blue monkey, what did he say?” Gayle had been talking for several minutes as they walked along. She was sure that Xandra wasn’t listening that her mind was on something else. It was something that pleased the other woman her smile approved that.

“What did he say?” Xandra turned blue eyes towards expectant emerald green ones and swallowed. She hadn’t been listening properly and now Gayle would think she wasn’t interested in the conversation.

“Yes. You were listening I take it?” Gayle asked innocently and watched as a faint red mark crossed those high cheekbones.

“Yes! Yes, of course I was Gayle. Why ever would you think differently?” Xandra prevaricated; she wasn’t sure what to say.

Gayle stopped and the taller woman turned to face her having stopped also and there was a beautiful grin on Gayle’s expressive face.

“Well, between you and me Xandra, I think it highly unlikely you would know what the little pink dog said to the blue monkey, wouldn’t you?” Gayle laughed at the perplexed expression that appeared on Xandra’s face. It made her look even more beautiful… if that could be possible.

“You tricked me?” Xandra asked slowly.

“Tricked? No, not really. I thought that perhaps you had become bored with my stories and needed to have some good old fiction in there to spice up the mundane.” Gayle continued to chuckle as she saw the embarrassed glance from blue eyes.

Xandra didn’t know what to say to this astute woman beside her, but knew she had to say something to appease the situation, or she might lose this tentative friendship before it had even begun. Also, she didn’t enjoy the feeling it brought to the pit of her stomach at that prospect, kind of cold and hollow.

“I’m sorry Gayle. I was pre-occupied and I lost track. Will you forgive me?” Xandra asked clearly sincere in her words.

Gayle pondered the question for all of a few seconds and then chuckled. “No problem, so where to now?”

Xandra looked at the slowly worsening weather for it was becoming very grey and the first snowflakes of the day were starting to fall gently as they stood there in the park.

“Any suggestions? The weather isn’t going to help us out I’m afraid and it’s getting much colder as well.” Xandra looked at her plain gold watch and saw that it was now close to eleven. At least they had managed a good hour on their outside activities.

“How would you care to take me home and I make us something light for lunch.” Gayle offered and was immediately snared by grateful blue eyes. The suggestion obviously pleasing the other woman and that made Gayle feel better. She felt for a while there that she had lost contact with Xandra, but now she was back and this time she hoped she’d stay.

“Now that’s an offer I have no intention of passing up. Let us go shall we?” Xandra held out her hand un-consciously to the blonde and was surprised at the small hand that fit comfortably in hers as she guided them towards her vehicle over the icy surface.

* * * * * * * * * *

Xandra couldn’t believe how cold it was in the small house as she moved her toes in her thick fleecy socks to keep the circulation going. Her large boots wouldn’t have exactly been welcome on the pale blue clean carpet that adorned the floor space in the lounge. Gayle had been right when she’d said that the heating wasn’t working properly, it was warmer outside she was sure.

Gayle walked into the lounge with two steaming cups of coffee and placed them on the coffee table between the sofa and the armchair.

Xandra was standing at the window looking out onto the white expanse of the drive and the small yard.

“I’ve brought you coffee. Sorry it’s so cold in here. Would you like to go back into the kitchen?” Gayle offered up the beverage and spoke apologetically to the back of her friend. They had enjoyed a companionable light lunch in Gayle’s warm kitchen for the last hour and forgetting her heating problem, had suggested they would have coffee in the lounge.

Xandra turned and gave Gayle a penetrating glance and shook her head.

“Not a problem. I’m made from hardy stock.” Reaching over to accept the hot drink.

Gayle retrieved her own coffee and sat down on the sofa and watched as Xandra moved towards the chair and hesitated.

“They say that if you share body heat you stay a little warmer.” Gayle stated quietly and placed a hand on the sofa to exaggerate the point.

“Do they? Have you had occasion to try that out first hand in the past?” Xandra asked the question initially in fun, but something inside her was willing the woman in the room with her to say no.

“Well, yes… years ago.” Gayle answered truthfully and looked into the depths of her coffee cup.

“Yeah, I guess you would.” Xandra responded quietly, her voice tinged with regret.

“My father used to say it was not only to keep the body warm, but the heart as well… if you share it with someone you love.” Gayle spoke wistfully as a memory came and went quickly for the blonde.

Xandra felt her heart race at the comment as she settled herself next to the smaller woman and then spoke gently. “You miss your parents very much don’t you Gayle?”

Gayle considered her answer carefully; normally she didn’t talk about her parents to anyone, even to Leah. For her younger sister would walk away, the pain too much for her to keep bringing up. Gayle had wanted to talk about her family and share some of the good times she’d experienced as a child and a young woman. There had never been anyone to share the situation with, never that is until now! Now, she wanted to tell Xandra everything about herself and her family.

“Yes, yes I do. They were fine people. I know you might laugh and say it’s because I’m their daughter, but that’s not true. I have the family love and pride of course. No, there was always something else about them, they spent time with their family and we did everything together and yet, they found time for others also." Gayle smiled as further memories fleetingly caught her attention. "I always felt that the love they shared together, they just wanted everyone to have a piece of it, crazy I guess to you, but it’s how I feel.” Gayle finished sheepishly and drank from her cooling coffee cup.

Xandra watched the expressions cross the younger woman’s countenance and all she wanted to do was listen captivated.

“Crazy? No, not crazy, perhaps a little fanciful to me Gayle. Then again, my upbringing was rather different than yours. I wish I was able to meet them.”

Gayle locked her green gaze to the blue sincere ones within a foot from her and they gazed at each other in understanding of something that could never be. “Maybe you can meet them?”

Xandra heard the softly spoken words and couldn’t take her eyes from the woman at her side and she felt herself move closer and their bodies were inches away from each other the warmth that Gayle had spoken about earlier a glowing fact between them.


Gayle felt a need that was becoming unbearable as she starred into the blue depths of her friend, she wanted contact and it was impossible to resist as she slowly moved her hand to touch the face of the woman who was now only inches from her. “This. I can offer you a share of the love that they brought into my life.” Gayle offered in a husky voice.

Xandra was mesmerised. She felt the tender touch of the hand that was stroking her left cheek and the words that offered her…exactly what did they offer? Whatever it was she wanted it in her life. The next step was hers, she could take it or leave it couldn’t she? As she’d always done in the past.

Closing the gap between them Xandra placed her lips on the pliant ones belonging to Gayle Sutton. All she knew was that the touch of the woman was exhilarating and her blood was boiling in total contrast to the cold flesh that was only now reacting to the up tempo beat of the liquid coursing in her vein’s.

Gayle hadn’t expected the touch of Xandra’s lips on hers. What she thought should be abhorrent to her, was in fact nectar. She was willing to drink from forever. Her mouth opened slightly to the gently probing of Xandra’s tongue and she allowed the sensations to build within her to such a crescendo the moan she emitted could have been someone else for all she knew.

Xandra heard the moan and suddenly her mind clicked into awareness of the situation and the fact that she was not only kissing a woman! But this was Gayle. Her new friend and her PA at work! My god! What am I doing? As suddenly as the kiss started, she broke apart from the lips that seemed an extension of her. With breathing ragged, she gazed with startled and apologetic eyes at the smaller woman, who was looking flushed with green glazed eyes.

“Gayle, my god I’m sorry. I really don’t know what got into me. I need to go…I…I’m sorry!” Xandra rasped out and swiftly moved off the sofa and out of the rooms at such a pace that Gayle was powerless to do anything other than watch her go.

Shocked at her own reaction and then the obvious distress Xandra felt, Gayle tried to catch up with the tall woman, but it was too late. She heard the jeep engine being revved up and slowly head out of the drive. Gayle opened the door wider to watch the vehicle move away from her home and taking with it the anguished profile of…of that was the question, what had Xandra become in those few moments?

Gayle turned back inside the house and as she did so she noticed the boots that belonged to Xandra, bending down she picked one of the leather heavy boots up and suddenly the absurdity of the object in her hand made her smile, ‘her own Cinderella!’

Locking the door behind her Gayle sighed heavily and replaced the boot next to its partner. She would return them in the morning. That was going to be one interesting good morning at the office.

* * * * * * * * * *

Xandra paced about her apartment. It was now three hours since she’d left Gayle’s home in such haste that she hadn’t even collected her boots. Although she knew that she had walked in only her socks to the jeep, she never felt the cold or the dampness that invaded them until she was safely in her apartment.

‘I can’t believe I fucked up like that. What on earth must Gayle be thinking of me?’

Shaking her head at the chaotic thoughts that plagued her. She didn’t know what to do. This type of situation was completely out of anything she had experienced before. It made her head ache to consider that she not only had compromised a budding friendship, also that her working relationship with Gayle was now threatened.

‘Matt… Matt yes, he will know what to do. I’ll call him that’s a good idea.’ Xandra mussed over the situation. But as she reached for the phone to place the call, she stopped and contemplated the action.

As much as Matt Herclotte was her friend, he was also a business colleague. She really didn’t need this to escalate beyond her and Gayle at the moment. No, there must be another way. Only question was… which other way?

Sitting down in a defeated fashion on one of her crimson leather chairs, she bent her head and starred at the polished wooden floor feeling colder inside than if she’d been placed in a freezer. Just when she thought she saw the light at the end of her tunnel something blocked it out and she felt the darkness closing in again.

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Seven

Gayle was nervous.

She hoped it didn’t show. Somehow the tentative looks she received from Jackie Lawrence at the reception desk as she listened absently about her exploits over the weekend had dismissed that as an option.

The coffee was brewing and Xandra was due into the office within the next five minutes. She was never late!

Gayle glanced down at the bag that held Xandra’s boots and she pushed then further under her desk. As she did so she didn’t see the door to her office open silently as Xandra strode inside.

Xandra looked at the bent head of her PA and it brought a fleeting smile to her lips and warmth inside her stomach that she didn’t understand at the sheer sight of the blonde. Had she always felt this way? She would have to ponder that question.

Clearing her voice, she spoke with remarkable confidence, something she didn’t entirely feel. “Good morning Gayle. Any messages for me?”

Gayle was surprised at not only the fact that Xandra was in the room, but her brisk question. Narrowly avoiding hitting her head on the desk, she moved quickly to face the woman she had been thinking about all weekend.

“Good morning Xan…Ms. Stavros. I’ve put all the messages on your desk.” Gayle responded with quick precision, as she recovered from using a familiar term, rather than the professional address. Nothing had changed apparently. ‘Was that good or bad?’

“Excellent.” Xandra reached her office door and went inside without another word.

Gayle was definitely upset. She didn’t know what to say or do now. The stance Xandra was taking was indifferent as if the weekend had never happened.

But it had, hadn’t it? Surely the feelings she was having, wasn’t a figment of her imagination… It couldn’t be!

Numbly walking over to the coffee pot, she poured the hot liquid into the mug that Xandra used and added the milk and the honey. It had always made Gayle smile at the sweet tooth of her employer. Now, she knew it wasn’t just in the office either. Gathering her composure she knocked on the office door and heard a preoccupied enter to her request.

Walking inside, she placed the cup on the left side, as always of her employer on the polished surface of the desk. Breathing deeply, she couldn’t help the increased rate of her heart beat as she looked at the ebony hair that was bent over a report and the obvious concentration the woman was emitting. It was a temptation to go around the desk and stroke away the stray hair that was falling over her eyes. ‘Hell! That was dangerous. What was getting into her? She wasn’t an adolescent with a crush on her boss was she? No! It is worse than that, I’m in love with my boss.’

“Do you require me to take notes in the next meeting Ms. Stavros?” Gayle asked quietly and saw the sudden jerk of the dark head in surprise at the voice.

Xandra looked up quizzically at the woman on the far side of her desk and couldn’t think what to answer immediately. Her mind had gone a blank and she couldn’t do anything but stare at her PA. ‘What had she asked her?’ This was becoming a habit involving Gayle.

Clearing her throat Xandra replied. “I’m sorry Gayle you asked me a question. I was pre-occupied. Would you repeat it, please?”

Gayle concentrated on the task at hand. It was stupid to let her personal life interfere with the work. She needed the job if she was to keep Leah in college for another year.

“I asked if you needed me to take notes in the meeting this morning.” Gayle replied with professional confidence.

Xandra looked at Gayle and quickly turned her eyes away as the green expressive ones held hers briefly. “Yes, we have the Leifstone project this morning for consideration. You know as much as Matt Herclotte and are a good second in an emergency.”

It was true, Gayle had been to all the meetings on the project and old man Oscar Leifstone seemed to have a soft spot for her PA, or was it that Gayle had charmed him as she charmed everyone… Yeah, even her!

“Are you expecting any emergencies?” Gayle sounded concerned and her eyes locked with the blue ones of her boss in question.

Xandra shook her head and laughed softly.

“No, no I certainly hope not, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Didn’t your parents ever tell you…?” Xandra trailed off as she realised what she was saying. Wasn’t the talk of Gayle’s parents the reason for her leaving abruptly yesterday? Although it wasn’t just talk was it, it was action as well.

“Oh, that’s fine then. I… perhaps…, well I thought perhaps there was a problem.” Gayle continued to stand at Xandra’s desk, wanting desperately to ask the woman why she had fled so abruptly yesterday. However, it wasn’t the time or place was it?

Xandra looked at the younger woman and realised that she needed to say something about yesterday, even if it was just to ask if Gayle had brought her boots back. ‘My god am I sad or something if all the conversation I can muster is about boots!’

“Gayle, about yesterday.” Xandra stood up from her chair and although there was the width of the desk between them, Gayle looked small and defenceless to her. It brought her a very sharp ache that she had never felt before.

Gayle faced her squarely and to Xandra she looked like she was ready to do battle if it hadn’t been serious she would be chuckling at the sight. “Yes?”

Xandra cleared her throat for the second time and moved around her desk so that she was within a foot of the smaller woman. “I wanted…that is …it might have appeared strange to you that I left as I did.”

Gayle starred at her a mix of emotions crossing her face.

“Strange isn’t the word I would use Xandra, but please continue.”

Xandra looked down at her hands that were held together in front of her, ‘was she wringing them?’ She wasn’t a child. She could handle this surely.

“Gayle, I was surprised at the way the situation was going. I guess I panicked.” Xandra bit out, exasperated at herself.

Gayle heard the exasperation and thought it was aimed at her and her part in the situation. “Surprised! Is that all you can say?”

Xandra was shocked at the anger permeating from the small blonde woman at her side. What had she done now?

“Look Gayle….” A knock on the door and it opened to allow Matt Herclotte inside. He breezed in as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

“Good morning ladies, you both have a good weekend?” Matt asked, his handsome face beaming at them with a large smile, oblivious to the undercurrents of emotions in the room.

“Matt you’re early.” Xandra replied quickly a sense of relief washed over her. She was saved from saying any more to Gayle about their personal issues for the moment.

Gayle continued to stare at Xandra, ‘Did Xandra think that was the end of the conversation? No way!’

Matt looked first at the silent smaller woman in the room who always had a cheery smile no matter what was going on around her… but not today! Then he looked at the tall dark woman, she was now seating herself back down in her chair and shuffling papers around and he was positive it was a nervous gesture. Now what was going on in here?

Looking down at Xandra’s bent head he answered her question.

“Yes, Michael needed to have a lift into town. He is visiting the art museum today with some of the art class from school. They were meeting up for breakfast, so I thought as I’m here early, I would take my first coffee with the woman who shares the other half of my life that my wife doesn’t.” He smiled openly as he talked about his eldest son.

Xandra looked at him and gave him a brief nod and a half smile. Michael was her godson and at twelve was the most levelheaded child she had ever come across. It was a far cry from his father at eighteen when she had first met Matt.

“Will that mean you need to go early this evening?” Xandra quizzed him and her eyes moved over something on the desk.

“I was kind of hoping you might have the Leifstone situation hammered out by mid afternoon and Gayle here knows more than I do if you have a problem.” Matt looked from Xandra to Gayle, who finally looked at him and gave him a glimmer of a smile, then turned towards the door to leave the office.

“I’ll bring you coffee Matt.” Gayle stated perfunctory and opened the door and went to fetch the coffee for the chief executive.

“Xandra what’s going on?” Matt asked immediately after the door closed behind Gayle.

“Pardon me? Going on?” Xandra responded cautiously and refused to look up.

“Yeah. Going on? You could have sliced the air in here with a knife as I walked in. Last time that happened you fired the person. Remember Sally Jackson?” Matt explained and waited for her response.

Shifting in her chair she considered his comment and then paced over to the window to look out over the flowerbeds that preceded the car park.

“Gayle and I were having a discussion.” Xandra finally offered in a strained voice.

Matt had known this woman for years. She had always been protective over her privacy. He had rarely, if ever, heard her sound so unsure. The very timbre of her voice reflecting… something. He just wasn’t sure what exactly, but it didn’t have anything to do with work, he’d bet his next paycheck on that!

“Have you argued?” he found that statement rather foolish to his ears for Xandra didn’t argue, she directed, manipulated and would decimate her opponent, but never raise her voice. Gayle he didn’t know as well, but he was certain that she talked her way out of a situation rather than argue.

Xandra laughed harshly at the question. “Hardly!”

Matt walked over to her and he could feel the tension emanating from her. It was like the waves lapping at the shore searching for an answer.

“Would you like to talk about it, or shall I drop it altogether?” Matt wasn’t stupid, Xandra was like a clam if she didn’t want to speak about a subject.

“I kissed her!” the words floated in the silence and hung there like a confession of a major crime.

Matt was shocked. He hadn’t expected her to tell him anything, but what she had told him had surprised the hell out of him. He found it difficult to reply immediately.

“You kissed Gayle?” He whispered, knowing the room was sound proofed didn’t register with him at that moment.

Shrugging her shoulders absently, “Yes. I ran away Matt. I was afraid, can you believe that?”

Before Matt could answer the door opened and in walked the very person that was on the minds of the occupants of the room in differing ways.

“Your coffee Matt. Would you like it here on the side table?” Gayle asked him, but her eyes looked towards the tall back of her boss.

“Thanks Gayle, yes that will be fine.” Matt smiled at her and he suspected that she wasn’t even aware of him in the room.

Gayle must have heard him though, for she sighed heavily and turned away and left the room closing the door behind her.

“In answer to your question… No, I find it hard to believe that the poised and remarkably confident Xandra Carmicheal-Stavros would run from anything. Although, being afraid that is a different thing altogether. Do you know why you were afraid?” Matt had never expected to ever have this type of discussion with his friend. But that was what he was, her friend, and if she needed him, he was always going to be here.

Xandra stiffened at the question, then turned anguished blue eyes to his and swallowed several times before she replied.

“I’ve never kissed another woman like that Matt. I never thought about it before. I wanted more, but I panicked and left her house. I desperately want to make amends, but I don’t know how.” Xandra’s voice was filled with a longing to have a solution as the words tumbled out.

Matt raised his eyebrows at the reference to her house. When had they become friendly enough to be at each other’s homes?

“Do you think Gayle was upset at the kiss, or that she didn’t enjoy the attention?” What else could have panicked his friend?

Xandra swept a hand through her ebony hair and shook her head.

“No… At least I don’t think so she…well… she appeared to enjoy it. Matt I don’t want her to leave me!” Xandra admitted her real fear that the woman in the outer office might move on.

Matt placed a warm comforting hand on her shoulder, “Would that be, leaving you in your business or personal life?”

Haunted eyes met his and she locked a troubled blue gaze to his compassionate grey eyes.

“I guess both. The most important one is on a personal level. I’ve just become used to thinking of her as a friend. Besides you, Angela and Emma, I haven’t made a friend in years. She makes me smile Matt and I feel alive when I’m in her company. Does that make any sense?”

Matt chuckled softly. “Does to me. I married the woman who made me feel that way and I’ve never looked back.” He hadn’t really wanted to say that, somehow how it just slipped out.

Xandra regarded him with a look of shock on her face. “What the hell are you implying Matt?”

Matt moved away from the now flashing blue eyes and the prickly stance Xandra had taken at his words. “Nothing, absolutely nothing. I was out of turn, sorry.”

Xandra nodded briskly and moved towards her desk her thoughts going over and over what Matt had just implied. ‘No it wasn’t possible, not possible at all!’ Bending over her desk she picked up the Leifstone project folder and headed for the door with Matt following hard on her heals. One word circling around in her head that had started to ache, ‘LOVE.’

Gayle heard the door click open and saw the speed that Xandra was exiting her office earlier than expected.

“Gayle, ask reception to advise you upon Leifstone’s arrival. Please greet him and bring him to the meeting room as soon as possible after that. I want this project cut and dried by lunch.” Her authoritative voice instructed her PA, and then left the younger woman alone in the office.

Matt Herclotte watched Xandra calmly resume a mask of business efficiency and winked at Gayle as he left to follow her to the venue.

Gayle heaved a sigh and pressed the short code for reception, her mind now tackling the daily routine. The other would have to wait, but not for long, she was going to make it clear to Xandra. If the Leifstone project were going to be cut and dried by lunch, well by the end of the day their relationship, whatever it was would be clearer as well.

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Eight

Oscar Leifstone slammed his fist down on the table in front of him for what must be the tenth time in as many minutes and even Xandra’s normally controlled profile was looking decidedly fragile at the moment.

“I will not let you sell my people down the river, do you hear me!” He shouted across the table to the woman who was looking at him her face a mask of no expression.

Blue eyes locked with his brown ones and she starred coldly at him.

“Why does it matter to you Mr Leifstone? Once you have your money, who gives a damn?” Xandra’s quietly controlled voice stated calmly. Her head was pounding, she also felt decidedly tired this meeting had gone on longer than expected.

Matt Herclotte looked at the red faced angry man opposite them and then turned briefly to look at the calm controlled woman at his side.

“May I intercede here Mr. Leifstone, Ms. Stavros?” Matt rose out of his chair and paced over to the display board that was showing all the results of the business they planned to take over.

Xandra nodded her head and Leifstone looked at him expectantly. Gayle had left the room to bring in refreshments when the argument began.

“I think the issue isn’t about the money we are going to agree for the company, it is more about the personnel aspects. Oscar, I think it’s fair to say you want the money, but also want the company to stay just as it is today. Ms. Stavros wants to pay the going rate for the business, but she wants changes and it will involve some changes to personnel. Would you say that is the sticking point here?” Matt asked quietly looking over to the two of them and smiled as the outer door opened and Gayle returned, laden down with the refreshments.

“How about we think about the solution as we drink what Gayle has kindly brought in for us?” Matt finally conceded. It certainly looked like the other two parties were going to be immovable objects today and it was now three-o clock in the afternoon. He needed to leave soon to collect his son. Xandra probably had forgotten that and it would be embarrassing for him to leave at this stage.

“Good idea Matt.” Xandra muttered looking down at the sheets of the take-over in front of her. Although she barely glanced at them, all she wanted to do was close her eyes in weariness.

Gayle placed the refreshments on the table and smiled at Oscar Leifstone.

“What can I offer you Mr. Leifstone?” Gayle asked her eyes filled with compassion for the elder man who was the old style company man. He cared for his workers as if they were family.

“My dear young lady if I was twenty years younger I’d surely tell you what you could offer me, but as I’m far to old for you, how about a coffee.” The old man smiled at her, the teasing evident in his tone.

Xandra glanced up from her papers at the remark to Gayle and she glared at the man. ‘How did he have the audacity to be familiar with Gayle?’

“Certainly Mr. Leiftstone, how do you take it?” Gayle enquired.

“Black and strong for me young lady.” The older man had glanced up at the moment Xandra gave him an icy glare and he smiled back at her, although it never extended to his eyes.

Gayle poured out the brew and handed it to him. Then she did the same for Matt, but her hand momentarily shook as she placed a steamy mug at Xandra’s left side.

Xandra had watched Gayle discreetly from hooded blue eyes and she was surprised that her drink came last. Glancing up at the smaller woman, she met green eyes. Their gazes locked and a message was passed between them, which Xandra didn’t want to do anything other than keep looking into those eyes. It really was rather nerve wracking, this need to be close to Gayle.

Xandra sipped form the beverage she was given and a smile briefly crossed her lips as the sweetness of the drink soothed her momentarily.

“Thanks Gayle.”

Gayle smiled back at her, her heart pounding as they had locked gazes once again. "You're welcome.”

Matt had been watching the brief interchange with the two women. He also noticed that Leifstone had taken an interest also.

“Do you have family in the area Mr. Leifstone?”

Oscar Leifstone gave the other man a shrewd glance and nodded his head. “Yep. A daughter. My only child. She’s married to a lawyer and they have two children. Keeps this old man occupied I can tell you.”

Xandra was trying to concentrate on the numbers in front of her, but her mind was on Gayle and the conclusion of their earlier talk, not to mention her unrelenting headache. As she mused over that she heard, the old man talking animatedly about his family and Matt’s retorts, Gayle was also joining in. Xandra couldn’t help but smile at the ease both her Chief Executive and PA had broken the ice with the man who had been rather unpredictable in the meeting.

“…yes Michael my eldest wants to go to art classes, but there isn’t a decent one in the locality unless you come to the big city and it would be difficult with my current commitments.” Matt laconically chatted to the older man.

Xandra heard the back end of the conversation and recalled Matt’s request to leave early. Being the professional he was, Matt wouldn’t bring up the subject at such a delicate time. But… what would Michael do, waiting for his father this long? Silently moving out of her chair she walked over to the window and saw that the weather was closing in again. The snow was now falling again and had been doing that all day. It was now at least three inches extra on the ground and the skies looked filled with more to come.

Gayle had watched Xandra move towards the window and look out over the white beautiful scene that a fresh fall of snow always brought to even the bleakest of scenes.

Turning suddenly Xandra had the look about her that said she’d made a decision. Clearing her throat to get the attention of the others in the room, she was suddenly glancing at three pairs of eyes.

“The weather is changing for the worst I’m afraid and I wouldn’t want us to become stranded. How about we resume this discussion in the morning and perhaps after a break we can resolve the final issues and come to an agreement?” Xandra spoke guardedly and she looked directly at Leifstone.

Matt smiled at the suggestion, so Xandra hadn’t forgotten his request.

Gayle had been surprised, but then she noticed Matt’s smile and remembered his son who would be waiting for him.

Leifstone smiled wryly at the tall woman standing at the window and mulled over the suggestion.

“First thing you’ve said all day Ms. Stavros that I can agree with wholeheartedly. As you say, maybe tomorrow we can resolve the issues. See you all tomorrow then, good afternoon." Leifstone stood up and collected his papers and went on his way without a backward glance.

“Well, that was an interesting solution to the day's problem.” Matt remarked smiling at his boss.

“Yes, well, if I’m not mistaken, my chief executive needs to be elsewhere doesn’t he?” Xandra stated quietly, a shadow of a smile on her face.

“Thanks. Do you want me to check in later when I get home?” Matt asked collecting his own papers and moving towards the outer door.

“No, that’s okay Matt. Tomorrow we can discuss it. Try and get in early again and we can have a strategy meeting before Leifstone arrives.” Xandra waved him on his way.

“Bye for now then ladies. I’ll see you in the morning bright and early.” Matt breezed out of the room leaving the two women alone.

Gayle waited for instructions on what Xandra wanted to do next.

“Can you rustle up something for us to eat Gayle? I’m sorry, but tonight I’m going to need you to type the notes of the meeting. We went through a lot of ground but the personnel issue needs to be clarified if I want to have this deal finalised tomorrow.” Xandra moved towards the door and heard the quiet acceptance from her PA as she left to make some calls in her office. The day really wasn’t going the way she wanted it to at all! To cap it all she felt lousy too.

Gayle looked at the retreating back of her boss and shook her head. The weather was pretty appalling outside and one part of her wanted Xandra to say enough was enough and they would call it a day. However, that would have been wishful thinking on a grand scale. Picking up her notes, she too left the room and went in search of something to eat for them both.

* * * * * * * * * *

Gayle glanced up at the wall clock and grimaced as she saw that it was now eight in the evening and she had finally completed all the notes from the meeting onto the computer, and she had printed out a hard copy and placed it into Xandra’s private box for her perusal.

Although, she had found several sandwiches and savoury snacks for them earlier, her stomach was now protesting that she needed to eat. Looking at the time, she wasn’t surprised at the interruption from her body. Scrapping back her chair she went towards Xandra’s office and noticed that the only light inside was a small table lamp on the coffee table next to the sofa, now that was strange!

Knocking softly on the door she waited for Xandra to ask her inside. It never came and she knocked again a little harder this time. Not getting an answer the second time she turned the handle and opened the door gently, not wanting to disturb Xandra if she was making a call.

Looking towards the desk she was surprised that the woman wasn’t there and she glanced towards the sofa and the light that emitted there. What she saw astonished her and it brought a lump to her throat with an emotion she really didn't want to justify at the moment.

Gayle saw Xandra curled up uncomfortably it looked to her, on the sofa and she had a hand under her head and was sleeping like a baby, or that’s how Gayle perceived it anyway.

Walking silently over to her she just stood over the taller woman and a tender expression passed over her features as she considered how much younger Xandra looked when she was sleeping. Gayle didn’t know if she should be angry, that while she was working Xandra was sleeping, or grateful that the woman could take the time to sleep if she was exhausted. Gayle knew that Xandra must be exhausted if she was sleeping.

Gayle bent down to pick up the glasses that Xandra used for reading and that had probably fallen off as she fell into sleep. The Leifstone original findings report was placed precariously on the edge of the table and Gayle moved that into the centre.

As Gayle bent down, she could see the tiny lines around the eyes of the older woman. It made her want to reach out and touch them and stroke away the evidence of the passing time on the woman’s face. She really was very beautiful and her face would stay that way even into old age Gayle thought as she continued to take in every line, crease and blemish that was on the face inches from her. What she wasn’t expecting was the capture from blue eyes that although glazed in sleep seemed to catch her in a hypnotic stare. Gayle held her breath at the situation.

Xandra was feeling a little disorientated, after she’d returned to her office and made several calls, her head ached and she felt her body protest with every movement. All she could think of was that she was tired, and as the hours ticked by the headache worsened, her muscles ached along with it. Damn could she have caught a cold from her foolish behaviour yesterday? So she’d taken the report and the couple of aspirin that she had in her desk drawer and settled into the relative comfort of the sofa, but that had only served to relax her a little and before she knew it, she was falling asleep powerless to stop it’s effects. Now she was looking into the green eyes she was positive she had been dreaming about. It brought a sense of peace to her as she gazed into there depths.

“You must have been tired? Would you like a drink?” Gayle asked gently, the blue eyes although focused on her appeared glazed with more than sleep.

Xandra heard the voice, but it sounded muffled to her and she tried to move her head and the headache pounded out as she gave a slight moan at the pain.

“Are you okay?’ Gayle asked in concern and reached a hand out to touch the forehead of the woman close to her. “You’re burning up Xandra. What’s wrong?”

Xandra felt the gentle touch and she shivered not from her fever, which she now knew was taking over her body, but at the touch of the woman before her.

“I feel terrible if you want the truth.” Xandra heard the croaky sound, was that her voice?

“Is there something I can do?” Gayle whispered and saw the grimace of pain flash over Xandra’s face as she sat up on the sofa and her hand went reflexively to her forehead.

“I guess I need to go home.” Xandra admitted in defeat.

“Are you capable of driving? Would you like me to do that and I can pick you up in the morning, that is, if you feel well enough to come into work?” Gayle replied her voice full of concern.

“Gayle of course I can make it home on my own!” Xandra replied not wanting to show any weakness to Gayle and yet she already had, hadn’t she?

Gayle was upset at the remark and quickly stood up and moved away from the sofa, let her manage alone then!

“I’ll leave you to it then; I’ve finished the report and it’s in your private box. I’ll say goodnight then.” Gayle spoke angrily and moved towards the door. This woman exasperated her!

Xandra knew she’d made a hash of something again, but this time she was so weary it was hard enough to move never mind spar with anyone.

“Thank you.” The words barely audible from the taller woman, who was now standing if you could call it that more swaying would be a better description.

“I’ll see you tomorrow Ms. Stavros, good night.” Gayle stated finally and walked out of the office.

“Goodnight.” Xandra croaked out and collapsed once again on the sofa, unable to stop her body… the legs had just given out. She would wait a few minutes and then go home.

 * * * * * * * * * *

Gayle tapped her fingers on the desk it had been half an hour since she’d left Xandra in the office and the woman still hadn’t left her office. Gayle wasn’t going anywhere until she left, that was a certainty.

Looking down at her desk, she spied Xandra’s boots and then it occurred to her that walking in the cold and in the snow the other afternoon could have been contributory to her condition at the moment.

Making a decision she walked towards the door of her boss and her ‘friend’ and without knocking she opened it up and walked inside.

It didn’t take a genius to work out that Xandra was ill when she went inside. The woman was slumped back in the sofa and the pallor of her skin was enough to warn anyone that she wasn’t well at all.

Walking swiftly over to the sofa, she placed her hand on the fevered forehead and realised that the woman’s temperature had increased in the last half-hour.

‘Damn you Xandra. You could be home in bed by now!’ Gayle thought as she placed a gentle caress down the woman’s cheek.

A soft moan escaped Xandra’s lips and Gayle bent closer to the feverish woman and was astounded when Xandra moved unexpectedly forward and placed her lips on her own.

If anyone had told her that the first time they had kissed was a one off situation they would have been wrong. For emotions began to run riot within Gayle and she tried and failed to consider Xandra’s state of health as the kiss deepened and Gayle was lost.

“Don’t leave me!” the voice sounded so far away, it was a plea from the heart, which Gayle sobbed at the very thought and she dragged her lips away reluctantly.

“I won’t leave you,” and silently added  "Not now, not ever," as Gayle spoke in a whisper into Xandra’s ear.

“Good.” A simple word but it conveyed so much. If only Xandra were lucid and actually thought that in the real light of the day?

Smiling she reluctantly shook Xandra’s shoulder and after the fifth attempt the blue eyes tried to focus on her. It brought a tender expression to Gayle’s face as she saw the effort it took for Xandra to open her eyes. There and then she knew that this woman was the most important person in her life and anything she wanted or needed in this life, Gayle was going to make sure she received it, if she possibly could.

Sometimes the most difficult things in life became the simplest. Strange but true! To Gayle that was what Xandra was to her.

“I’m going to take you home Xandra.” Gayle insisted, but with a force behind it that surprised her.

“OKAY.” The only word that Xandra could muster. Her mind was a kaleidoscope of images and some of them felt wonderful especially when they involved Gayle.

“I need for you to get up now Xandra and I will help you. Together we’ll make it.” Gayle said confidently. However, she wasn’t really. She knew if Xandra didn’t move on her own some, they would have difficulty.

As she helped the taller woman it was clear that they would have only one chance at this. Xandra felt as if the room was spinning out of control and she felt a sharp pain in her head as she moved around, but she was grateful for the strong grip of Gayle, whom she vaguely saw as her eyes clouded with the pain.

Gayle managed to make it to the elevator bank and pressing the button a sigh of relief escaped as the doors opened immediately. Helping Xandra inside, she was worried about the pallor of her skin and her silence. In all the years she’d worked for the woman, she’d never known her boss to be ill.

What seemed like an hour, but was only seconds, the doors opened and the reception area came into view. Gayle saw what could only be described as a white blizzard raging outside the building.

“Damn!” Gayle cursed. No way could she let Xandra walk outside to the car park in that.

“What’s wrong?” Xandra queried her level of consciousness had elevated itself from neutral to first gear on the ride down in the elevator.

Gayle turned her green concerned eyes to the clouded blue ones.

“Snows heavy at the moment Xandra. It would be unwise for you to go out in that. You could end up with pneumonia and I won’t let that happen.” Gayle answered heavily.

“Well, we can’t stay here overnight can we?” Xandra asked quietly watching the expressive face of her PA. She was amazed when Gayle’s face lit up with a smile.

“That’s exactly what we are going to do!” Leading the surprised taller woman back inside the elevator and punched the button back to the executive floor.

Several minutes later Gayle had settled Xandra back on the sofa and went in search of a blanket and a pillow.

Gayle foraged in the medical room and found what she needed, a blanket, pillow and opening the medical cabinet with the key that they kept in the executive area for emergencies, she retrieved a cold remedy powder and some aspirin. Hopefully that would help her friend.

As she went towards the elevator she looked out over the white scene it really was very beautiful, but in the current circumstances she wished it a thousand miles away. If Xandra didn’t improve she would have to call out the emergency medical services and take Xandra to the hospital. That was a rather drastic step and one she didn’t want to take at the moment anyway.

Eventually going back into the office, she noticed that Xandra was propped up and had the Leifstone report in her hand. ‘Did this woman ever give up?’

“What do you think you’re doing?” Gayle quizzed, her voice sharp and demanding as she placed the cold remedy on the coffee table.

Xandra jerked her head quickly and wished she hadn’t as the pain seared into her left temple.

“I was…was just reading the report for tomorrow. If we are stuck here, I might as well try and come up with a plan for tomorrow morning.” Xandra explained and gave the blonde a weary smile.

Putting her hands on her hips she moved to within a few inches of the woman. “You think that you will be in a fit state to have a meeting tomorrow? I think not!”

Xandra would have laughed at the audacity of her PA had she felt better, but she just starred at Gayle, not knowing what to say in response.

“Let me have that!” Gayle stated and held her hand out for the report, which Xandra meekly handed her and continued to stare at the smaller woman.

“That’s excellent. Now take this.” Gayle reached across the coffee table and handed Xandra the made-up cold powder remedy.

Xandra grimaced as she drank the liquid and didn’t dare leave any as she saw the arched eyebrow glance that Gayle gave her.

“Now that will make you feel better soon, I promise you. Now lay down and lets put this pillow under your head and settle the blanket around you.” Gayle gently pushed the taller woman’s shoulder and was pleased that Xandra didn’t protest at the request.

It was clear to Gayle that Xandra was at the limit of her energy as a sigh emitted from her lips as her head touched the pillow. Gayle helped Xandra put her feet up and she took off her shoes. Gayle touched her feet and realised that Xandra was going to need to keep warmer than the blanket could offer. She would work on that problem next.

As she tucked the blanket around Xandra, Gayle bent towards her and pushed away the hair that was falling over her eyes. Blue eyes shot up and looked at Gayle and they blinked in tired gratitude of her efforts.

“Thanks, Gayle. What would I do without you?” Xandra murmured groggily.

“How about you sleep and I’ll be back soon. Hopefully with more blankets for you.” Gayle insisted and stood up moving away.

“Don’t be long.” Xandra whispered brokenly in a very drowsy voice. As Gayle looked back at her to reply, she was asleep, words no longer audible to her.

* * * * * * * * * *

Gayle was tapping away at the keyboard. It was now two in the morning and although she was tired, she wanted to keep occupied as the cold was gradually getting to her also. She’d managed to find another blanket and placed that over Xandra’s feet to keep her as warm as possible. Added to that, she’d eaten a couple more sandwiches to keep away the hunger pangs and wished it could have been one of the dishes from Cyrene’s Taverna.

Xandra had woken only once in the last five hours. She had taken the aspirin along with a honeyed hot drink, which Gayle had prepared and gone back to sleep immediately.

Stretching her aching muscles, Gayle moved to look over the scene outside her window. The glow from the snow made the night look welcoming for once and it brought a smile to her face as she recalled a particular evening when her sister had been sick with the measles and not allowed outside the house. She and her father had made the biggest snowman outside Leah’s window and it had brought a smile from her younger sister. She and her father had indulged in a snowball fight after that much to her sister and mother’s delight. They had some good times together. The memories bringing a tear that trailed down her cheek, but they were good tears.

Suddenly a crash was heard from the inner office and Gayle ran into the room to find out what the problem was. Inside she saw the table lamp on the floor and Xandra was struggling to get up and retrieve it.

“Leave it Xandra! I’ll pick it up.” Gayle stated her voice relieved at the fact that it was only the lamp.

“I’m sorry Gayle. I must have been dreaming.” Xandra explained.

To Gayle she sounded much better. ‘She must surely have special healing powers’ the younger woman thought to herself.

“No harm done. How are you feeling?” she asked coming closer and putting her hand out to Xandra’s forehead to check the temperature.

Xandra glanced up at her and gave her a grin. “Head doesn’t ache as much and the throat isn’t as sore. Guess you make a good nurse.”

Gayle beamed at the compliment and took her hand away, but it was forestalled as Xandra grasped it with one of her larger hands.

“You’re cold.”

Gayle shrugged. “A little. The heating system is off in the building and I can’t find a manual override. I’ve been working to keep out the cold.”

“Working? What time is it?” Xandra asked her voice concerned and virtually back to normal.

“It’s a little after two and yes… working. It helps to pass the time.” Gayle replied and tried to extricate her hand out of the firm grasp of her friend.

“You need to get some rest as well Gayle.” Xandra speared her with a look from warm blue eyes.

“I will, I will. I’ll make you another drink and then I’ll curl up in the chair and sleep. How’s that?” Gayle walked towards the door.

“The drink would be good and the other we will discuss when you return.” Xandra shut her eyes signalling the conversation was at an end for the moment.

Gayle was puzzled at the comment, but decided to leave it for now. Ten minutes later she was sitting opposite Xandra as they both drank heavily from the mugs in their hands.

When they had finished Gayle rose out of her chair and smiled briefly at Xandra.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Xandra inquired in a controlled tone.

Gayle turned to her in surprise. “I’m going to curl up in my chair and get some sleep.”

“No! No you’re not! Sleep yes, but here next to me.” Xandra pointed to a spot alongside her.

Gayle was taken aback by the offer and bewildered. She swallowed several times before she could answer.

“Cat got your tongue?”

“No! You need the rest Xandra. I’m not sick and we both can’t get on that sofa, it’s far to small.” Gayle pointed out practically.

“If you try and sleep without warmth in that cold office, who will end up sick then? I can’t allow that Gayle, you know that.” Xandra replied calmly.

“Don’t be silly Xandra. I’ll be fine.” Gayle felt like they were going back to the other afternoon in her home.

“Then allow a sick silly woman her wish. Please, Gayle. We can share body heat. Isn’t that what you tried to explain to me the other day?” Blue eyes locked with green and Gayle knew that she was no longer able to resist.

“Yes, yes it was.” Came the concurred reply.

“Come here then.” Xandra insisted, her eyes never leaving the ones of her friend.

Self-consciously Gayle went over to the sofa and slipped her shoes off as she tentatively slid onto the sofa next to Xandra.

The taller body of Xandra’s had curled up to allow Gayle to get on the sofa. Gayle laid her body alongside Xandra's gingerly and perched precariously on the edge.

“I don’t bite.” Xandra chuckled. The hoarseness, although not as evident, gave the chuckle a sexy timbre and Gayle felt sure that Xandra would hear her increased heart rate.

“Thank god for that.” Gayle breathed out the words, her mind flashing with all kinds of possibilities those words evoked.

Gayle settled back down and was suddenly pulled into the warmth of Xandra’s body as long arms came around her waist and gently eased her back. Both women gave silent sighs, as they released any nervous tension and closed their eyes, both exhausted.

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Nine

Xandra was awoken by the sound of gentle snores and she reluctantly opened her eyes to find out why those noises should be emanating from her apartment.

But it wasn’t her apartment! She wasn’t even in a bed!

Peering down, she couldn’t help the tender smile crease her lips as she looked into the blonde face of her PA and friend. Gayle Sutton was turned towards her and her face was making itself comfortable on the centre of her chest. The gentle snores were coming from the small blonde also. She really was quite cute when she did that.

Xandra glanced across at her desk and saw the clock that was fortunately turned towards her blinking out four forty-five. Soon the janitor would arrive to check on the boiler and open up the building for the day. He would check every office for any problems in the heating system before anyone else arrived. He would receive a shock if he saw her and Gayle in this position. They would be the talk of the building.

A smirk crossed her face as she realised that she didn’t give a damn what they thought. If half of what they thought at this situation were true, she would be a happy woman. But, it was all innocent and based on the need to keep warm in the cold building wasn’t it?

She felt the pins and needles in her arm that was trapped between Gayle and the sofa. She really needed to move it, but how without disturbing Gayle. Trying to move it she inadvertently pulled too hard and Gayle was woken up and green sleep filled eyes peered into hers.

“What…, what’s the matter?” Gayle asked anxiously.

“Nothing, nothing at all. My arm went to sleep, that’s all.” Xandra replied sheepishly and smiled into the beautiful face of the woman in her arms. Her heart had increased its tempo and she was sure Gayle must hear it, did it matter?

“I’m sorry. Would you like me to move?” Gayle began moving away from her warm cocoon close to Xandra’s body even though she was loath to do so.

“No, please Gayle, it’s fine now. Just needed a little freedom that’s all.” Xandra was reluctant to release the small blonde the feel of her was intoxicating her blood. It was a wonderful, overwhelming feeling.

“You look better. How do you feel?” Gayle asked in concern, lifting her hand up to touch the forehead inches from her.

“I’m fine now and the headache has gone. Thank you for taking care of me.” As she spoke the words, she captured Gayle’s hand and brought it to her lips and kissed the palm.

Gayle’s breath caught and she gave a ragged sigh. What should she do now? Then the unspoken question was answered as Xandra bent her head and blue eyes clung to green in silent permission as her full lips descend and captured Gayles in a kiss so warm, tender and exquisite, Gayle was sure it was a dream and that she was sleeping.

Several feverish kisses later, which had nothing to do with any illness, Gayle grasped Xandra’s face and starred into her eyes.

“I don’t want you running away again. Promise me you won’t do that this time Xandra, promise me?”

Xandra was not immune to the plea and she smiled gently at the worry that crossed the blonde’s face.

“Not this time. This time I’m staying right here with you in my arms.” Gayle launched herself at the dark woman and reined numerous kisses over her eyes and cheeks and gradually down her neck, sucking at the pale skin that brought a moan from the woman who was remarkably docile in her embrace.

Hands ran over the muscled back and buttocks of the woman in her arms and then as Gayle’s lips travelled to the valley between Xandra’s breasts, she couldn’t help herself from moaning at the pleasure she was inflicting and receiving.

“Gayle, Gayle we have to stop.” Xandra interjected, her voice a strangled cry.

“Stop! Stop why?” Gayle whispered as her lips caressed the skin and she brought her hands up to unbutton the shirt that Xandra wore, as her fingers deftly reached behind to unclasp the bra that held her breasts. “You are so beautiful.” Gayle managed to whisper and then was lost as she gently suckled first one dark brown nipple and stroked the other with a slow gentle movement from her fingertips fascinated as it peeked to her touch.

“Gayle for god’s sake! The janitor is due anytime to check over the building. Do you want him to find us like this?” Xandra was on fire. She didn’t give a damn if the janitor walked in at this minute if it was up to her. Gayle certainly knew what buttons to push on her and the flood of desire between her legs a sure sign she wanted this woman who was giving such sweet attention to her breasts.

“I don’t care! Do you?” the muffled sound as Gayle trailed wet kisses across Xandra’s chest and changed her position to suckle the other breast.

“I…I no I don’t give a damn!” with that Xandra started her own exploration and very soon, they both had only one garment of underwear left a final barrier to their desire.

Xandra was trailing feather light circles over Gayle’s belly as she gently eased the younger woman over her body and they looked into each other eyes. “Will you make love with me Gayle?” Xandra asked her voice barely audible over their heavy breathing.

“Isn’t that what we are doing?” Gayle asked in a breathless whisper as she placed her lips on Xandra’s and they both relished the contact, not only of the mouth, but the tongue and the warm pressure of breasts pressed tightly together. The whole situation was sensually erotic to both women.

“Yes, I hope so," hesitating only a second Xandra said the words Gayle thought she would never hear. “I love you Gayle.”

Gayle couldn't help the single tear that coursed down her cheek at the admission and she vaguely recalled Cyrene’s words that Xandra would never let herself experience love. Well, that was one myth that Gayle was happy to break. She would relish the day she told Cyrene that particular story.

“I love you too Xandra. I think we should make each other happy don’t you and seal this love we share?” Gayle replied with a sexy lilt to her voice that had Xandra pulling the smaller woman to her and kissing her soundly as a starter.

“I want you to know something first Gayle.” Xandra gasped as she felt Gayle’s lips graze her neck.

“Mmmm, go ahead.” Gayle said indistinctly.

“I’ve never made love to anyone before.” Xandra whispered and caught her breath wondering what Gayle would say to that confession.

“You mean to a woman?” Gayle had stopped her meandering over the tempting flesh of Xandra’s neck to gaze into her eyes.

“No. Not to anyone.” Xandra breathed out the words, her eyes unsure as she continued to trade eye contact with her soon to be lover. “Darling, I love you, and I’ll share a secret with you, neither have I.” Gayle smiled slowly as she saw the blue eyes rekindle with passion and wonder.

The fingers of both women trailed a sensual path over responsive flesh and removed the final barrier of clothing between them. With experience born of the ages of time, they brought each other passionately to a pinnacle of sexual satisfaction. As if it was always meant to be neither capable of words, but happy to hold each other and savour the moments of the first consummation of their love.

“I love you.” Xandra spoke into the blonde head that was laid across her shoulder.

“I love you too Xandra. Now you understand what it means to share body warmth with someone you love.” Gayle gently teased the woman and heard the rumble of her laughter as her ear was pressed tightly to her chest.

“Yes, I guess I do now. Anytime you want to practice that particular point My Darling, I will be a very willing partner.” Xandra chuckled as she felt the lips crease into a smile on her chest and she was then rewarded with a kiss to the underside of one breast.

“We need to put our clothes on before Jack arrives. We wouldn’t want to shock him, would we?” Gayle grinned and moved away from Xandra so that she could look into her eyes.

Xandra gave Gayle a sultry look and was amazed that her whole life was now in the hands of this bubbly woman. Gayle might not appreciate that yet but it was. “I wouldn’t want him, or anyone else to see you without your clothes on.”

Gayle gave her smirk and replied. “Jealous now, are we?”

A serious look came over Xandra’s features. “Yes! Does that disturb you?”

Gayle gave the question a serious few seconds and then laughed softly and kissed Xandra until she was convinced that her lover knew there wasn’t a problem.

As they quickly dressed they heard the door to Gayle’s office open and Jack the janitor move slowly about the room and Xandra shot her a grin as she settled in her chair and shuffled papers about as the door opened and in stepped the old man.

“Ms. Stavros? Ms. Sutton? What on earth.” He said shocked at their presence in the room.

“Mr. Clarkson, good morning.” Xandra responded, staring directly at him. If he’d looked closely he would have seen the laughter in her eyes.

“Did you two work all through the night?” He glanced around the room and saw the jumble of blankets a pillow and at the end of the sofa he saw two sets of shoes and turned quizzical eyes to the two women in the room that looked remarkably happy.

“In a manner of speaking.” Xandra replied, shuffling the papers around again. She was so happy it was like a bubble ready to burst and all she wanted to do was take Gayle back into her arms and experience the bliss of the contact again, and again, and again!

“I see. Well if you don’t mind Ms. Stavros, I’ll check the heating and get along.” The old man bustled around the room and walked past the coffee table and then within inches of Gayle Sutton and he smiled at her and gave her a wink. He then bid them good morning and left the room.

“He winked at me.” Gayles said to the smiling face of her lover.

“Yes, he did. Do you want me to tell you why?” Xandra was chuckling as she made her way round her desk and gathered the blonde into her arms and grinned down into the perplexed face.

“Why?” Gayle asked in confusion.

“Because Darling, you need help in the art of dressing quickly,” trailing a delicate finger over the buttons that were out of sequence.

“Oh, no!” Gayle exclaimed, her face turning red as she realised the potential of her error.

Xandra laughed and Gayle watched fascinated as the lips she craved curled up in laughter it was so wonderful to see and know that she was responsible.

“Kiss me, please.” Gayle whispered and turned her face up to receive the kiss she knew Xandra would not deny her.

“Anytime.” Xandra with pleasure proceeded to do Gayle’s bidding.

Several minutes later they broke apart both flushed and wanting more.

“How would it be if I cancelled the meeting today and called in sick?” Xandra volunteered with a smile.

Gayle looked at her worried for a moment that the fever was returning and then she saw the wolfish smile that was plastered over her lover’s face.

“I think I’d second that suggestion, if I could be your nurse.” Gayle gently touched Xandra’s cheeks with a tender caress.

“Oh, I think that can be arranged, don’t you? Let’s get out of here, what do you say?”

“You’re the boss.” Gayle quipped back and glanced down at her feet, where were her shoes and Xandra’s as well.

As she went over to pick them up and hand Xandra’s to her, she thought, well if Jack were a gossip by tomorrow the whole building would be waiting for their return. Somehow it didn’t matter what people thought. If having this woman in her life was the payment, then it was worth any gossip… any gossip at all!

“Let’s go home shall we.” Xandra put on her shoes and locked away her papers and placed a warm hand on Gayle’s back as she guided her out of the door.

Gayle smiled as she considered the words. ‘Home’ what a wonderful word that was when spoken by the person you love. It brought a glow inside that she was sure would never die.

* * * * * * * * * *

“You’re sick?” Matt Herclotte spoke sharply into the phone as Xandra told him that she wasn’t coming into the office today, that he could also take the day off and stay with the family.

Xandra looked at the small blonde that was lying naked on the bed in front of her and she considered the question.

“Oh! Yes, I’m sick. I have this fever you see.” Xandra explained and she locked gazes with Gayle who smiled at her in invitation.

“A fever? How ill are you? Do you need anything? Shall I come over?” Matt asked in concern he was ready to go and see his friend if she needed any help.

“No! No, Matt. I have everything I need to bring the temperature down. Trust me on that one. Do something with the family, Gayle has volunteered to help me.” Xandra couldn’t help the warmth that flooded out in her voice as she mentioned her PA to her Chief Executive.

Matt Herclotte smiled in understanding as she mentioned Gayle Sutton. So the fever wasn’t quite the type he originally thought.

“I understand Xandra. Say hello to Gayle for me will you? I hope between the two of you that you can contain the fever.” Matt chuckled as he spoke.

“Oh, I think that’s a certainty Matt. Talk to you tomorrow. And Matt, tell Leifstone to arrange for me to have a site visit next week, I think we can do a deal.”

“Why not tomorrow?” Matt asked disconcerted by the current events.

“I’m doing important research from home that requires my full attention and that of my PA. I’m sure you can cover for me.” Xandra laughed happily into the handset and replaced it on the cradle without waiting for the answer.

Matt looked at the dead phone connection in his hand and he shook his head. ‘Well! Can you believe that?’

Angela Herclotte walked down the stairs at that moment. “What’s the matter Matt? Did I hear you say someone was sick?”

Matt grinned at his wife and as she came closer he wrapped her in a loving hug and kissed her tenderly. “How about I show you what being sick means to my boss.”

Angela looked at him, what was he talking about. “Xandra’s sick?”

Matt saw the look of concern in his wife’s face. “Oh yes. But it’s a sickness that can only be cured by one person. I’ll explain Darling. Let us go back to bed.”

“What about work?” Angela was being lead back upstairs as Matt proceeded to tell her why he wasn't going to work that day.

* * * * * * * * * *

Gayle was being held in the warm embrace of the woman she loved and sighing she couldn’t believe how lucky she was.

“You okay?” Xandra asked having heard the sigh.

“Okay? Okay is not the word I would chose.” Gayle replied in happiness.

“No? Care to tell me how you feel?” Xandra quizzed her tenderly.

“I feel loved, protected and so very much alive!” Gayle said turning to face her lover.

Xandra blushed at the compliment and her eyes glowed with love for the woman in her arms.

Cupping Gayles face gently she traced a delicate line over her eyes, nose and lips, which pursed kissing the fingers lovingly.

“You make me feel loved, whole and completely at your command.”

“Really?” Gayle replied her face suddenly serious at Xandra’s confession.

“Yes, really. I’ve never given myself to anyone before and I’m glad now that I could give you my first and what will be for me the last and only love I have to offer.” Xandra spoke with loving conviction.

Gayle felt the tears welling in her eyes as Xandra spoke.

“Don’t cry Gayle. I’m sorry if I’ve upset you.” Xandra panicked. Didn’t Gayle want her love?

“Darling I love you. I have never been in love before either. I’m so happy that we found each other and shared the first time together. It makes me feel so cherished and happy.” Gayle placed a feather light kiss on the lips before her.

“I guess we both need to gain some more experience? What do you think?” Xandra grinned as she searched out Gayle’s lips once again in a deep fulfilling kiss.

“Oh, yes I agree with that one. Definitely, but I only want one teacher.” Gayle admitted huskily.

“Can I guess on the teacher?” Xandra replied her voice an octave lower giving it a sexy gravely texture to Gayles hearing.

“How about I’m your only teacher and you’re mine?” Gayle finally responded when she was released from another searing kiss.

“I want nothing more my love. So what would you like to teach me now?” Xandra asked looking into the passionately glazed green eyes.

Small hands wandered over her naked flesh, which heated up at the touch. It was clear as both women felt the flood of desire immediately spark as they indulged in an education programme only two people would ever be allowed to follow.

A lifetime of loving, in a tunnel full of light.

The End.

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